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Reunion

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Poplar 1978

Lieutenant Colonel Delia Busby, QARANC, and soon to be a Principal Matron of The Joint Allied Services Military Complex in Edinburgh Scotland, pulled her car to a halt in front of Nonnatus House, turned off the engine, and checked her appearance in the rear view mirror. Gone was the tightly pinned bun, replaced with a below the nape flip that accentuated her salt and pepper hair. Also gone were 25 pounds of excess weight, replaced by a perfectly toned body that made Delia was very comfortable in her own skin. Satisfied that she was presentable, Delia exited the car and headed toward Nonnatus House.

She hadn’t been back to Poplar since she left quickly and quietly in May of 1965, so when the invitation came announcing Sister Julienne’s retirement and the subsequent closure of Nonnatus House, she happily accepted it; it would be so good to reconnect with people who meant so much to her as a young nurse, and to pay homage to the old convent that was her home and emotional shelter for so long.

She bounced up the steps to the convent with eager anticipation, turned the old brass door knob and pushed open the heavy mahogany doors. The familiar smell of the old place she called home for so many years engulfed her senses and brought a bittersweet feeling of comfort, but also of loss; she had been so happy here, but a pang of sorrow gripped her heart at the thought of its closing. Chatter and laughter were coming from the kitchen, and she hurried to discover which of her former colleagues she would find.

A short, slightly plump blonde was the first to look up and notice her presence, ‘Is that Delia Busby standing there so svelte and sexy; my god, the Army has been good for you. You're disgusting and I hate you; I should have joined with you instead of giving in to that scoundrel of a dentist to whom I am wed; at least I might still have my hourglass figure.’

Delia laughed and said, ‘Trixie, you haven’t changed much, there’s just more of you to love’, and rushed to give her a big hug.

‘Have you seen her yet’, whispered Trixie.

‘Seen who?’, asked Delia with a furrowed brow and blank expression.

‘Patsy, have you seen her yet?’, said a somewhat taken aback Trixie.

Delia’s expression was still blank.

‘Surely you remember your best friend; you two were practically joined at the hip’, snapped an annoyed Trixie.

“Oh, oh yes, Patsy’, she said, while trying bring into a focus a memory from the recesses of her mind. ‘I haven’t thought of her in years; she just dropped completely off my radar’, Delia replied.

‘Well’, Trixie whispered conspiratorially, ‘don’t act surprised when you see her; time and Mother Nature have not been kind to her. She’s in the lounge with Sister Julienne and the others’.

Delia thanked Trixie for the warning, but just as she was turning to go toward the lounge, she spotted Phyllis Crane across the room talking animatedly with people Delia did not know, but assumed they had been Nonnatus midwives before she moved in.

When Phyllis caught sight of Delia, a broad smile enveloped her face, and she rose to grab her walker and hobbled in Delia’s direction. ‘Ah, nurse Busby, or should I say ‘Colonel Busby’, Phyllis blurted out as she hugged Delia, her excitement barely contained. ‘Oh, how glad I am to see you, lass. You’ve done us proud. I feel as though I should salute you’.

‘It’s lieutenant colonel, and is I who should salute you; I owe you so much, Phyllis. You trained me well, and I often use you as an example of professionalism when I speak to student nurses. You will always be my mentor and role model’.

Delia then winked and flashed those dimples and said in a haughty falsetto voice, ‘I can even approximate your sternness when called for’.

‘Oh hush now, and let’s join the others in the lounge’, crowed Phyllis as she turned her walker and took off toward the lounge.

Delia had been so engrossed in conversation in the kitchen that she had forgotten what Trixie had said about Patsy, so when she saw a bedraggled older woman sitting somewhat slouched on the couch, she was initially at a loss as to who it was. But just as the woman looked at her, those unmistakable blue eyes locked on hers, and from the recesses of her memory she recognized them as Patsy’s, but they couldn’t belong to Patsy. The thought flashed through Delia’s mind that Patsy must have died and donated her organs, and her beautiful eyes now belonged to this stranger.

In the fog of the moment, Delia heard an unmistakable throaty voice coming from the woman’s mouth say, ‘hello Deels’, and Trixie’s warning came back to her. Yes, Mother Nature had not been kind to Patsy. Gone was the porcelain complexion and perfectly shaped lips, and in their stead, was a lined and tortured face. Delia hoped with all of her might that her expression did not give her shock away. ‘Hello Patsy’, she was finally able to mutter.

Patsy smiled and extended a hand that involuntarily shook, a symptom not lost on Delia. She took the trembling hand and thought ‘oh, god, what’s happened to you’, but managed to utter, ‘how have you been’. Where upon Patsy gave a sardonic look, and said ‘ isn’t it obvious?’
‘But, you, Delia, look like the epitome of perfection. Time has been good to you’, she said while taking in Delia’s form from head to toe.

Uncomfortable with the attention focused on her stark contrast to Patsy, Delia quickly changed the subject by asking ‘what are you doing in nursing these days?’ A nervous and uncomfortable silence fell over the room, broken by Sister Julienne's hurried suggestion that they all gather in the kitchen for cake.

Patsy pleadingly looked at Delia and said ‘I really need a cigarette. How about we step outside in the garden and catch up while i get my nicotine fix; we never cared much for cake anyway’.

Delia forced a smile as she remembered when she had shouted those words in frustration, bowed and extended her arm, ‘after you, ma’am’, and followed Patsy to the garden while the others stopped in the kitchen for cake. Delia observed that Patsy had lost muscle tone through her hips and legs. Her once perky hips were now flat and flacid, and those long, beautiful legs had been replaced by shapeless stringy sticks. She furrowed her brow when she noticed Patsy’s somewhat distended abdomen.

Once outside, and out of earshot of the crowd, Patsy turned and with a desperate look on her tortured face, asked ‘Deels, why did you leave me, I tried for years to find you, but everyone seemed to have taken a vow of silence where you were concerned. No one would tell me anything, not Phyllis, not Sister Julienne, nor Matron.

‘I even called your Mother who told me in no uncertain terms that if you wanted me to know anything, you would contact me. I was beside myself with worry. Where did you go, and why didn't you ever contact me?’

Delia crossed her arms and let out a big sigh as their parting began to erupt in her conscious mind; she tentatively said, ‘Patsy, if I remember correctly, you stopped loving me’.

‘I never did, Delia, never’.

‘Patsy, once we returned from our world tour and found that the NHS was moving all district nurses and midwives to hospital duty, you couldn’t handle the harsh glare of reality that we found ourselves suddenly in. We no longer had the protective cocoon of the convent where our friendship was accepted, even if it was never acknowledged for what it was.

‘The male consultants were relentless in chasing us, you in particular. You didn’t know how to deal with it, you were tense and prickly all of the time, and I became an albatross to you, always causing you to have to explain away our relationship in ways that made us acceptable to judgmental people’.

‘Delia, you were never an albatross to me', said Patsy with a sorrowful expression.

‘Patsy, I was dying; the greatest fear women like us have is that our lovers will leave us for a man, and it was pretty obvious you were going to ditch me for that Chadwick fellow. I sat you free; I didn’t just disappear; I left you my ring and a note bidding you happiness and a good life.

‘ I didn’t want you to know where I went; I had to find out who I was, and what I could be apart from your devotee. I joined the Royal Army Nurse Corps. By the way, I’m now a Principal Matron with the military rank of Lieutenant Colonel’.

Delia looked directly in Patsy’s eyes and dispassionately said, ‘Patsy, I found myself; leaving you was the best thing that ever happened to me, although at the time it was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. I stopped defining myself in relation to you. I am no longer that naive young waif from Wales; I know who Delia Busby is, and what she is capable of achieving’.

After an uncomfortable pause during which Patsy seemed to be fighting back her emotions, Delia took a deep shaky breath and said, 'now, I have to leave shortly, so I’m going to go back inside and visit with our old chums. Coming?’

Patsy held her composure, grabbed Delia’s arm and timidly said, ‘Delia, please have dinner with me before you go back to wherever, please. We, I, I, need closure’. It’s just me, Chadwick has not been in the picture for a long time, if he ever was.

Delia saw that pleading, desperate face, the face of someone who had lost hope. Ignoring the voice in her head telling her to back away from this train wreck, she softly replied, ‘I guess you at least deserve that much, Patsy. I’m addressing the graduating student nurses tomorrow at The London, but I have time tomorrow afternoon. Where shall I meet you and when?’

Patsy gave a relieved, but sorrowful smile, and said, ‘Come to my place tomorrow around half past five. We can talk without interruption. Do you still like scotch?’, Patsy asked as she wrote her address on a napkin and with trembling hands, gave it to Delia.

Delia took the napkin and replied ‘tea will be fine.’

Chapter Text

The auditorium in the center of The London Medical Center was cavernous, and was beginning to fill with family members and guests of the graduating nurses. At eleven o’clock sharp, the organ began to play and in marched the faculty and staff of the London School of Nursing in full academic regalia, followed by the graduates in their freshly starched nurses’ uniforms, all filing to their designated seats. The pomp and ceremony was quite impressive and quite long.

Finally, the distinguished guest and Dean of the school proceeded onto the stage and took their seats, while in the very back of the auditorium a slight figure in suit and wide brimmed veiled hat crept in and quietly sat in an aisle seat on the last row, unnoticed by the excited crowd.

After a boisterous singing of ‘God Save the Queen’, the Dean proceeded to the lectern and began to introduce the guest speaker, ‘Soon to be a Principal Matron of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nurse Corps, and one of our own, Lieutenant Colonel Delia Busby is our keynote speaker today.

‘ Lieutenant Colonel Busby is a 1958 distinguished graduate of The London School of Nursing, a certified midwife, a combat trauma surgical specialist, an a psychiatric nursing practitioner. She will soon assume the position of a principal matron at the Combined Military and Joint Allied Medical Center in Edinburgh Scotland’. As Delia proceeded to the lectern, the Dean motioned for the crowd to rise and give a standing ovation. She looked spectacular in her military regalia, so much so that an audible gasp could be heard emanating from the back of the auditorium.

Delia had always been a good storyteller, enthralling her audience with animated stories of her childhood in Pembrokeshire, and today was no exception; she charmed her audience with tales of her shenanigans while a student nurse. The audience roared with laughter and several of the students gave each other knowing smiles, no doubt some of those escapades had become legend. The woman in the wide brimmed hat sat softly chuckling and wiping tears from her eyes while her heart rejoiced and ached at the same time.

Delia seamlessly segued from humorous tales to a more serious note as she challenged the students to always look for opportunities to be of service to others, to pursue avenues that were difficult but offered greater rewards, to stay abreast of their field of study, and to be the very best nurses that they could be, always putting patients’ needs before protocol. The audience rose to its feet in a resounding round of applause as Delia smiled and stepped back from the lectern.

The Dean then came forward to announce that she and Lieutenant Colonel Busby would award degrees to each of the graduates. While the graduates lined up to receive their diplomas, the woman in the back row rose from her seat and quietly left the auditorium unnoticed.

Chapter Text

Delia, wearing dark brown flared leg slacks with a soft yellow geometric print tailored shirtwaist blouse that accented her toned torso, arrived at Patsy’s Chelsea home promptly at half past five holding a bouquet of flowers for the hostess.

Patsy opened the door before Delia even knocked. It was obvious that she had taken great pains to look presentable for her special guest. Her hair, pulled up in a loose french twist, and her bright red nails, had been done since last they saw each other. Her hair, still dyed red, no longer complemented her once stunning features, but now highlighted the decline of her overall appearance. She was wearing an emerald green dress that at one time would have accentuated her beautiful figure, but which tonight hung shapelessly over her frail frame. Nevertheless, Delia noticed her efforts and told her that she looked great as she cheekily asked who else was coming.

‘It’s just the two of us, Deels, and stop with the flattery. Come on in, and let’s have a drink before dinner. You probably need to relax after your strenuous morning.’

Delia gave a questioning look, but commented, ‘You’re right about that; my feet hurt and I have absolutely no energy in reserve after my morning, so maybe I will have a glass of wine after all, red please.’

Patsy escorted Delia to a cosy nook off the kitchen, and motioned for her to sit on the overstuffed sofa in front of a fireplace. ‘Please take off your shoes and put your feet up while I get our drinks.’

The stately old place reeked of old money and breeding, but also of cigarette smoke, layers and layers of cigarette smoke, the acridness of which made Delia’s eyes and nose burn. How had she tolerated Patsy’s and Trixie’s smoking all those years ago? Almost no one in her circle smoked now, and the Royal Army had initiated smoking cessation programs for all soldiers. Smoking had become taboo, and was prohibited in all buildings and at all social functions, so the atmosphere Delia found herself in tonight was truly breath taking.

‘Why so far away, Ms. Busby? You look deep in thought, I hate to interrupt you with a drink’.

An exhausted Delia uttered, ‘well, I’m glad you did’, and smiled as she took the crystal wine glass, ‘cheers, Patsy’, she said raising her glass in Patsy’s direction.

Patsy, scotch in hand, acknowledged the toast, then sat down across from Delia and delicately said, ‘Deels, I would like to continue our conversation from yesterday if you don’t mind’.

With a heavy sigh, she continued, ‘I know I was often distant from you and preoccupied with my own concerns to the point that I was frequently short and impatient with you’. Patsy took a sip of her scotch, and continued, ‘I was still reeling from my father’s passing, and the reality that I truly was an orphan. I had no one, Delia, no family to care about me, and I behaved ghastly toward you’.

Delia, with an incredulous expression on her face, and total recall suddenly slamming around in her mind, couldn’t let that statement pass, ‘You had me, Patsy’, and in a controlled tone of voice continued, ‘I thought I was your family. I had loved you since I was eighteen years old and first laid eyes you’. She paused to reign in her thoughts to keep them from stampeding, then continuing, ‘Patsy, I worshipped you; you were my everything. I willingly put my career on hold to follow you around the world; I was perfectly happy to subordinate myself to your needs and desires; I was content to be your shadow’.

‘But once we got back to Poplar and found our world turned upside down, you changed, you pushed me away; you demeaned me, nothing about me or what I did pleased you.’

Delia paused while she sipped her wine as the hurt she thought she had ridded herself of bubbled to the surface, ‘my clothes were frumpy and out of style; my Welsh accent you had once loved was an irritant to your ears. You even told me I needed to take elocution classes so I wouldn’t sound like such a bumpkin’, Delia sighed and took another long pause before continuing to talk….

‘But, Patsy, the thing that broke me was you letting that horrible man drive a wedge between us. Once he started showing up unannounced at the door, I never felt secure in our home again. Even his unseen presence violated our sacred space. Neither of us could relax and be comfortable within the walls of our flat again.’

Patsy closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip as Delia’s verbal barrage continued, ‘You were tense all of the time. You pulled away from me, you recoiled every time I tried to hold you; we stopped sleeping together; your public behavior became your private behavior as well’.

When Delia realized just how much anger she still had bottled up, she paused to get her emotions back in check while fighting back tears. Patsy was right, they both needed to have this conversation.

‘I’m sorry Patsy, I shouldn’t have unloaded on you; I thought all of this was behind me, but apparently it wasn’t. Seeing you again caused my anger and hurt to bubble to the surface; I know I’m exploding like an angry volcano, but I apparently can’t hold back my fury any longer.’

Patsy couldn’t help but quip, ‘and, we don’t have any young virgins to sacrifice to the angry thing’, before offering a meek defense, ‘Deels, I was a fool, I was unmoored and adrift in a sea of turmoil I couldn’t come to terms with. You’re right, I couldn’t handle the sudden changes to our world, and I struck out at the one person I loved and who loved me. I was dying too, Deels.

‘Phyllis took me aside several weeks before you left, and warned me I was about to lose you if I didn’t correct course. I felt intruded upon and insulted, but after I digested what she said and got my pride back in check, I realized what she was saying was true, and I was so ashamed of how I treated you. ‘

‘I ran home to hold you and ask for your forgiveness, but you were not there; that’s when I found the note with your ring. I thought at first that you were just angry and would be back after your anger subsided, but as days turned into weeks, I knew you had left for good.

‘ Initially i was so afraid that something tragic had happened to you, but when I asked Phyllis and Sr. Jullienne if they had seen you or knew where you were, they were so unconcerned and nonchalant that I knew you were safe but that I had lost you. Scotch and Chadwick consoled me.'

Delia closed her eyes in frustration, as she said, ‘Patsy, do you have any idea how that man tormented me? He’d made up his mind that he was claiming you, and when he found out I held a very special place in your life, he sat about to ruin me.’

‘The first night he just showed up to our flat unannounced, you weren’t home yet, but you should have seen the look on his face when I answered the door. ‘What are you doing here, I didn’t know Patsy had a maid’, he derisively spat. ‘ I told him in no certain terms that I lived there’, whereupon he said, ‘ well Patsy must take in charity cases; there’s no way a rube like you could afford to live in a place like this; does she know just what a little freeloader you are?’ That’s when we heard you coming up the stairs and his demeanor changed to total humility and politeness.

‘I remember you looked surprised and slightly agitated when you saw him , but you hid your emotions well. He said he was in the area, and wanted to surprise you with dinner and drinks, you declined telling him you were very tired, and just wanted to put your feet up. ‘

‘But even then, he wouldn't take no for an answer, and shouldered his way into our lounge insisting on a cup of tea as a consolation. When it became obvious that you weren’t going to throw him out, I recoiled to the bedroom in disbelief, wondering if you really wanted his company over mine.

‘Patsy, I heard him teasingly say to you he didn’t know you took in charity cases, or perhaps you had a deep dark secret you were hiding. You assured him that neither of those things were true, but I could just sense you cringing inside. In fairness to you, you did tell him that we had been friends since nursing school, and that I had been a totally supportive when your father was dying. ‘

‘His only comment was that it was a pity that not many women of your social standing went into such a mundane occupation as nursing. The implication was that I was the best you could do until your circumstances improved’.

‘Oh Deels, I was so unmoored at that time, I didn’t realize he was playing mind games with me, sowing seeds of distrust. I just couldn’t get back on an even keel, and I certainly had no idea just how he was tormenting you’.

‘Patsy, what he was doing to you is called ‘gaslighting’; he purposely made you doubt what you know to be true by convincing you that what you saw with your own eyes was not what you were seeing, or what you heard with your ears is not what you actually heard. He wore down your ability to discern fact from fiction until he became the only true source of reality for you. ‘

‘I noticed after he made his comment about me being a charity case how suspiciously you looked at me the ONE time I left my money in my other uniform pocket and had to borrow from you for my lunch. The thought that I was a freeloader did cross your mind’.

Patsy winced at hearing Delia’s accucation because she knew it was true.

‘From then on until I left, I knew whenever he planted a seed in your mind, my clothes, my accent, my competence and motives for being a midwife…

Delia, red faced, on the verge of tears, and wishing she had declined Patsy’s dinner invitation, continued her verbal barrage, ’Oh yes, Patsy, he approached me one day after I had just examined a women in labor to judge her dilation. He leaned into my ear and whispered ‘bet you really like looking and feeling women’s private parts, really gives you a warm, wet one, doesn’t it? Well, country girl, you better be careful, very careful, if you know what I mean’. Then he raised his eyebrows and sneered as he sauntered down the hall with that cocky walk of his.

‘Later when I tried to tell you what he said to me, your only comment was that perhaps I needed to reflect on my methods, and perhaps be more circumspect in what I do’.

Patsy cringed as she heard Delia’s painful recollections of their last few months together; it felt like her life was being read before her on judgment day; the thought crossed her mind that Delia just might weigh her heart before the evening was over. She stifled a cry as Delia continued with her barrage of pent up anger.

‘You were spending more and more time with him, going to dinner and dancing, and less and less time with me. Our relationship felt alien and awkward; when I attempted to remind you that we had said our vows in the chapel, and that we, I ,considered ourselves wedded, Patsy, you shrugged my feelings off and said that is was a juvenile thing that we did; it really had no legal significance. That is when I knew I had lost you; I had to get away from you for my own sanity.

‘Patsy, that crushed me, broke my heart, destroyed me. I no longer knew who you were, you certainly weren’t the woman I had devoted my life to and loved with every bone in my body’.

Patsy took a long sip of her scotch while Delia paused to wipe her tears before continuing her verbal assault.

‘I decided right then and there to see if the QA would accept me because I had to get away from you. With the war in Vietnam raging, I knew they needed all the medical support they could get, and that Britain was lending support to America’s folly. Even though I was training to be a midwife, my experience in male surgical and with the ambulance squad made me an ideal recruit.

‘I talked to Phyllis and she thought under the circumstances that it was the best thing I could do. She gave me a wonderful recommendation and served as liaison between Sr. Julienne and Matron for my other recommendations. Phyllis insured that this would be handled in strict confidence; that’s why she wouldn’t tell you anything’.

Patsy sat drinking copious amounts of scotch as she continued to suffer Delia’s tirade. 'I had forgotten that Phyllis knew all about us’.

‘Yes she did Patsy, and she didn’t burn you at the stake because of it, did she?’

‘No, she didn’t. She even testified on my behalf at my fitness hearing, as did Sr. Julienne and Matron, but it wasn’t enough to save me’.

'Deels, you must be famished; I have a Yorkshire pudding in the oven. Let’s bring it out, and call a truce while we eat, please’.

Delia realized she was ravenous; she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and she was physically weak and emotionally drained after unloading on Patsy with such ferociousness. She took a large helping of the roast and several popovers, practically inhaling the food. ‘Patsy, please forgive my field hand manners, but I am absolutely famished. I do love a good Yorkshire pudding’.

A slight smile appeared on Patsy’s face; she remembered Delia loving Yorkshire pudding and ordered it especially for her visit.

Between mouth’s full of food, Delia asked, ‘Patsy, you never told me what happened, the reason you gave up nursing. Shall we talk about it now’?

Patsy, looking at her plate and pushing food around with her fork without trying to put it in her mouth, began speaking, ‘I thought we had called a truce, but we never were much at small talk, so yes, I need to talk about it, but let’s go back a few chapters so maybe you can understand how I dropped to that low point’.

‘After you disappeared, Chad really put the moves on me, I couldn’t shake him. To complicate matters, Trixie and Barbara were ecstatic that I had finally found a man, and a very rich and polished one at that, or so they thought. He took me to meet his family, and we made all the society parties.

Delia interrupted Patsy to ask if Barbara or Trixie ever asked about her.

Patsy thought for a moment before finally replying, ‘you know, Deels, they were so excited about me finally having a mutual interest, that they never really gave much thought to why you left; I think Phyllis just announced that you had a career opportunity you couldn’t pass up, and left it at that. That satisfied their curiosity and they got on to meddling in my business’.

Upon hearing how little significance she held in their lives, Delia just closed her eyes and shook her head.

Patsy, oblivious to Delia’s pain at being so quickly forgotten, continued, ‘I must admit that going to these events with Chad was enjoyable, they reminded of the affairs my parents used to host’; with a far away look in her eyes, she continued, ‘I visualized my mother is her elegant gowns and jewels, and father in his tuxedo and patent leather shoes. My, they were quite a pair, and all eyes were upon them when they danced. That was before it was all taken away from us. These events with Chad evoked such an aching nostalgia that for brief moments I could go back to a time of innocence’.

Patsy returned to the present as she said, ‘he asked me to marry him, and while he was charming, I didn’t love him, but it was the expected thing to do, and you had dropped out of my life, I was trying to fill that emptiness, so I said yes. I made it clear to him that I would continue with my nursing career, and while he didn’t particularly like my decision, he didn’t try to change it.

‘We had the ultimate society wedding; we spared no expense, rather I spared no expense, as he teasingly reminded me that the bride’s family footed the wedding bill and provided the dowery.

‘On our honeymoon when I realized I had never been with a man, I became quite petrified. The only way I could tolerate the thought of him on top of me was to get so drunk I couldn’t feel anything’.

Delia was visibly uncomfortable at hearing about Patsy’s intimacy with that man, but did not attempt to change the subject.

‘Apparently even after vast quantities of alcohol, I was still a cold fish and stiff as a corpse. I just never enjoyed being pounded into the mattress, so I just laid there until it was over, which fortunately for me, wasn’t very long', she said with a smirk.

‘The funny thing was he thought I was a virgin and strutted around like a banty rooster over the thought that he had deflowered me; it gave me great delight knowing that my flower had been plucked by someone else years ago, and that that person never thought I was a cold fish’, she said with that lopsided grin.

Delia’s face turned a bright red and a sheepish grin crossed her lips as she heard Patsy’s declaration; she even managed to utter a soft laugh.

‘Chad and I had been married a couple of months when my nightmares about the internment camp started again. I would wake up screaming and talking nonsense like I always did during an episode; once he found me hiding in the bathtub. He had no patience with me, and certainly no sympathy. He told me I disgusted him; called me a freak; said I was damaged goods. Between my frigidity in bed and my nightmares, he started spending more and more time away from me and seeing other women; of course, I was unaware of his infidelity until much later’.

Patsy was still playing with her food, but was continuing to drink scotch as she unburdened her heart. Delia reached across and took the fork out of her hand, put some roast on the tines and held it up to Patsy’s mouth, ‘eat this, Patsy; you need something to soak up some of that scotch’.

Patsy obediently took it, and continued as soon as she swallowed. ‘His real motives in wooing and marrying me soon surfaced when he invited
my father’s solicitor to the house to discuss our financial situation. We were still living on our wages and the monthly allotment that my father had provided ever since I was in boarding school. Chad claimed his money was tied up in an offshore account, and not readily available.

‘You know I never touched that money my father deposited every month, never knew how much was in the account because I always lived on my wages. We, he, drained most of it for the wedding and the parties celebrating our entry into high society.

‘He wanted to get his hands on the Mount fortune; he wanted total control of all of it. But my father must have anticipated something like this happening because he had an ironclad, irrevocable trust drawn up that paid me a substantial amount of money each month, but which I could never, still can’t, change without losing everything. Of course, I do get costs of living increases each year, and I can request funds if I really need them, but if I ever tried to break the trust, I would end up penniless.

‘When the solicitor told him that I had no money of my own, but was only given a stipend from the business’ trust, he was speechless at first, but then became highly enraged. The only money that was considered joint property was what was deposited into my account each month; all the rest of my father’s fortune belonged to the corporation. Even this house belongs to the corporation; I am only allowed to live here, but I could never sell it, even if I wanted to.

‘He was furious, and raged at me for withholding this information from him although I had no knowledge of Father’s business; that’s when I knew his real motive in marrying me. It turned out that Chad and his family were impoverished aristocrats, resting on hollow nobility and always in search of a wealthy woman to latch on to.

‘Deels, I know I am rambling, but it is important that you understand what was going on in my life prior to me losing my nursing career.

‘Patsy, if this is too uncomfortable for you, we don’t have to continue talking about it.’

‘No, I need you to know what happened’. Before she could continue, Delia held another fork of food up to Patsy’s mouth, and motioned for her to open up and take it, which she did before continuing.

‘He started running around, even flaunting it to me. He was making my life miserable.

‘ One night I was on call for the unit, I came home and he was in a state of agitation about the money situation and my nightmares. He ranted and raved and demeaned me to the point I was hysterical. I took a drink to calm myself, then another and another.

‘I really didn’t anticipate being called into the unit because no one was ready to birth when I left for the evening, so I just kept drinking. By the time he finally left for his carousing I was totally wasted. The phone rang around eleven o’clock and I was needed in the unit. A woman had gone into labor and was in distress -- so was I -- but I went into work..I don’t know how I was able to drive without killing someone or myself, but somehow I got there.

‘It was a complicated delivery and I decided I had to use forceps, even though midwives aren’t trained to do so, I had seen so many doctors use then that in my incapacitated state, I insisted I could deliver that baby. Patsy paused before continuing, ‘my assistants were horror stricken and forcefully escorted me from the room. Unbeknownst to me, one of them had called the pediatrician in charge and he completed the delivery, but the damage was done, my reputation and career were destroyed.

‘I was suspended, and scheduled for a hearing on my dereliction of duty. Because of the severity of the situation and the potential harm I could have done, not to mention the concern for the hospital’s legal responsibilities, I was fired and my nursing license revoked indefinitely.

Delia had pushed her plate back and was aghast at hearing of Patsy’s lapse in judgement; she had always been so professional in her midwifery. ‘Oh Patsy, I am so sorry. How awful for you’.

Delia attempted to feed Patsy another bite of roast, but Patsy turned her head away from the fork saying, ‘Please, Deels, I’m not hungry’.

‘At about the same time that my ordeal was happening, Chad was reported by several of his female patients for inappropriate touching during examinations. He was also found to be nipping money from the department’s supply and travel accounts. He was given the option of resigning, or of being charged with sexual assault and embezzlement; he knew he was guilty as hell, so he chose the first option. He cleaned out our joint account and fled the country. As soon as I realized what he had done, I contacted the solicitor and had Chad’s name removed from all accounts and legal documents, then filed for divorce in absentia due to abandonment.

‘I was rid of him, but I was totally destroyed as a result’.

Delia sat in stunned silence for what seemed like forever before finally asking, ‘Patsy, how have you occupied your time? Have you ever tried to get your license back’?

‘Oh, I put in the perfunctory work sitting on the Mount foundation board advising which charity gets what money, and so forth. Mainly I’ve tended my mother’s flower garden, and avoided the public as much as possible. I’m pretty much a recluse. I really couldn’t leave town because of the constraints on this property, and the fact I could never work as a nurse again. Deels, there is no court in the land that would give me my license back; besides, I haven’t kept up with the changes in nursing, so I would be a liability for that reason alone’.

‘When the invitation for Sr. Julienne’s retirement came, I was thrilled that someone remembered me, much less wanted to be around me, still considered me part of the Nonnatus family, so I quickly accepted. I also knew it was my last hope of finding you again, at least of finding where you were’.

Delia was silent again, processing everything Patsy had just told her, but finally able to squeak out words of empathy. ‘ Patsy, that is such heavy baggage you’ve been shouldering by yourself. I don’t know how you’ve managed to stay so strong. I am so very sorry that your life has taken such a tragic turn, and I truly hope you can get beyond these things and find some joy in life; you of all people certainly deserve it’; Delia sighed, then said, ‘ but I must really be on my way since I have a long drive ahead of me’.

‘Before you go, Delia, did you ever marry; is there someone special in your life now?’

‘No, Patsy, I am married to my career. Oh, I’ve had a few dalliances but nothing serious or lasting. Once was enough.

Patsy grabbed Delia’s arm as she was standing up, ‘Deels, I really am happy for you, and so proud; pleadingly, she continued, ‘is there a chance we can possibly reconnect? Can we at least be friends, acquaintances? Is there anyway I can ever make it up to you? I’ve never stopped loving you; not a day goes by that I don’t wonder where you are and what you are doing. Can we ever be whole again’?

Delia was stunned speechless for a moment; this encounter and declaration was not on her agenda in coming to Poplar: she was really at a loss as how to respond. Finally she took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and said as gently as she could, ‘Patsy, I really am not the same person I was back then; I’ve grown and expanded my world, I’ve found myself. I will always cherish what we had before progress and technology changed our world; but I can’t go back to being an 18 year old lovestruck kid again. I’m sorry, and I do wish you only the best, Patsy. Now, I really must go’.

Through very slurred speech and a wobbly stance, Patsy said ‘well, at least can you give me a hug for old times’ sake?’

‘Sure, of course I can at least do that,’ Delia said and stepped forward to embrace this broken shell of the woman she once loved. ‘Will you be all right after I go? Patsy, please consider professional help; it would benefit you so much’.

‘I’m afraid, Deels, that ship has sailed, or rather sunk in my case; Humpty Dumpty is too much of a mess to be put back together again’.

Delia winced at Patsy’s words, but told her it was never too late, to take care and that she would be in touch as soon as she was settled. On that discordant note, she got in her car and drove toward her destination for the evening.

 

****

She was already several miles down the motorway before she became aware of where she was, so deep in thought had she been over what had transpired that evening.

How could someone she hadn’t thought of in years suddenly release such deeply buried heartache and consume her thoughts so completely? She had come back to Poplar to see her old chums and mentors one last time as well as address the graduates; not to get sucked back into Patsy’s drama, but what she found just wouldn’t let her go -- Patsy had looked so beaten, not the fighter Delia remembered. Patsy, who had survived an internment camp; Patsy who had lived through boarding school and her father’s rejection; Patsy who had become a model nurse and trusted midwife; Patsy, who had loved her completely, now a broken, empty shell of a human.

Delia wondered if she had stayed in Poplar, or come back for Patsy, would there have been a different outcome? Would they have been able to find their way forward?’ ‘Well’, she said out loud, ‘I didn’t stay, and I didn’t come back, so that’s that. She’s not your problem Delia; she made her bed, and now she’s sleeping in it’.

Delia suddenly had a feeling of foreboding come over and settle in her stomach, the feeling like she used to get as a child every time a thunderstorm came up. Patsy’s final words to her played over and over in her mind. That ship has sailed, rather mine has sunk; Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again. Her training and experience set off alarm bells in her head: God, could Patsy be suicidal? She was absolutely right when she said she had no one; Patsy really didn’t have anyone in her life who cared about her, or whether she lived or died.

Those little voices in the back of her head kept fighting amongst themselves: should she turn back and check on Patsy? No, she should keep going forward, leave that diseaster behind her, be glad she dodged that bullet. But if Patsy did kill herself, and she could have prevented it but didn’t, she would never be able to live with herself. After all, this was Delia Busby who always stopped to aid injured animals she found on the side of the road, she could do no less for a human being.

Her better angel won the argument and she took the next exit off the motorway, heading back to Patsy’s at quite a bit over the speed limit, but she didn’t care, someone's life may be in the balance. If Patsy was okay, she would tell her she thought she left her scarf there, but if she wasn’t okay, then ………..

Chapter Text

Delia parked her car, ran up the stairs, and rang the doorbell. The damn thing was so loud it could wake the dead thought Delia, and she immediately wished she hadn’t used that particular analogy. Patsy didn’t respond to the door bell, so she knocked as loudly as she could, still no Patsy.

She remembered Patsy always insisted that they keep a spare key hidden outside in the event they were ever locked out. Where would Patsy hide a key? Not in an obvious place, but Delia checked under flower pots and statuary anyway. Then she saw a ceramic turtle in the bush by the side of the bottom step, almost hidden from sight, and it looked like just a place Patsy would hide a key. She picked it up, and sure enough there it was, so Delia wiped the dirt and debris off of it and ran back up the stairs. Still no Patsy visible, so Delia inserted the key, opened the door, and barged into the house calling for Patsy at the top of her voice, but to no avail.

She ran through the foyer and to the kitchen, and then to the room where they had eaten, but no sight of Patsy. Still calling for Patsy, she ran into the cozy nook where Patsy had served them drinks, and that is when she saw, first the pill bottle on the end table and then the scotch. Both were empty, and Patsy, slumped in a chair, was pale as a ghost and totally unresponsive, another analogy she immediately regretted.

Delia grabbed Patsy and shook her, ‘Patsy, Patsy, answer me; can you hear me’, but there was no response. She checked for a pulse and for a sign that she was breathing. Thank god she found a weak, irregular pulse and a very shallow breath. Patsy was still alive, but barely.

Delia remembered seeing a phone in the kitchen and hurriedly called for an ambulance, telling the operator that she had an unresponsive person who appeared to have overdosed on sleeping pills and alcohol. She told the operator to be sure there was a stomach pump on the ambulance, but in the meantime she would try to induce vomiting.

Damn, damn, damn! What was she going to use to make Patsy puke? She remembered her Tad had given their old dog, Blue, a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and milk the time he had eaten an entire bag of chocolate covered raisins. The dog barfed and barfed within minutes of ingesting the cocktail, so surely the same thing would work on a human.

She remembered Patsy keeping a bottle of peroxide in the cabinet over the kitchen sink incase one of them cut a finger while preparing a meal. She flung open the cabinet door and true to her nature, Patsy had a bottle there awaiting any such emergency.

Delia mixed some milk with the peroxide, grabbed a large flexible funnel from the cabinet, and went back to Patsy’s limp body. She quickly, but carefully positioned Patsy’s head so that she could pry open her mouth, insert the funnel down her throat and pour in the cocktail. She remembered she didn’t grab a pail or bowl to catch anything that Patsy upchucked, so she ran back to the kitchen to obtain one before the hoped for action started.

She made it back just in time to catch the first projectile burst of the foulest smelling bilge she had ever experienced. ‘Oh god, Patsy, this is vile’, she said just as Patsy brought up another round of vomit. This time she saw capsules expelled along with the bilge. ‘Good girl, good girl. Keep it up, where is that damned ambulance’ she fretted just as she heard the siren coming up the street. She propped Patsy up and ran to the door to signal the driver. Patsy started making heaving sounds again, so Delia rushed back to her to make sure she didn’t choke on her own vomit.

The attendants quickly inserted the stomach pump down Patsy’s throat, an action that caused her to gag even though she was still unconscious. They pumped until there was nothing left to pump out; they then put her on a gurney, started an IV, placed an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth and quickly carried her to the waiting ambulance.

Delia told them she would be right behind them as soon as she secured the house. The contents from Patsy’s stomach would have to wait for the housekeeper to clean up later.

Delia arrived at the hospital emergency room and asked the desk clerk where Miss Patience Mount was. The nurse rotely asked if she were a relative, and Delia succinctly replied that she was indeed a relative, by marriage, and Miss Mount’s only living relative.

The nurse appeared satisfied by the comment, and escorted Delia to a partitioned area where Patsy’s unconscious body was being attended to by a bevy of nurses and specialists. The attending physician asked Delia if she were the one who induced vomiting, she indicated she was, where upon he congratulated her, and told her she had saved Miss Mount’s life. Delia gave a tired smile and thought ‘thank god for old Blue and his thievery’.

The doctor then told Delia that Patsy’s condition was precarious, that she had a long road to recovery, although she appeared stable at present, and that she would be monitored throughout the night; if she remained stable through the night, then she would be moved to the psychiatric ward the next day to begin alcohol withdrawal treatment.

Delia suddenly felt the tension between her shoulder blades as fatigue spread over her body. She knew she could do no more to help Patsy tonight; she wanted nothing more than a hot shower and a soft bed.

She wasn’t sure just where she was going to sleep tonight since she had by now lost her reservation, and it was very late to try and find a place with a vacancy. She decided she had no choice except to go back to Patsy’s for the night; after all there was a huge mess that had to be cleaned up, and Patsy’s bed was not being used. She would just have to deal with the stale cigarette smoke.

*****

Delia was exhausted, but too keyed up to go directly to bed, so she put the house back in order and cleaned up the mess, then went looking for the bedroom. She was pretty sure Patsy would sleep on the first floor because she was too frail to climb stairs, and with her excessive drinking, she probably wouldn’t chance climbing the stairs even if she could. Sure enough Delia’s hunch paid off; she found the bedroom at the end of the hallway.

She flicked on the light switch, and entered the room, taking in the understated elegance of Patsy’s bedroom furnishings, but just as she was halfway across the room what she saw in the corner caused her to stop in mid step and gape. There on a large mahogany table was a photograph gallery paying homage to their relationship; picture after picture of them through the years, from nursing school through the Nonnatus years - there they were in those square dancing costumes, god, they were young - to pictures from their world tour, riding the elephant in New Delhi, floating in a gondola through the canals of Venice, sharing a drink at a sidewalk cafe in Paris.

But what startled her was the large photo in the center of the table of Patsy in her wedding dress. Oh god, she was so beautiful and the dress was perfectly lovely, although it was a pale peach color instead of the traditional bridal white. She would have to ask Patsy about that someday, maybe. What she saw next made her audibly gasp, for next to Patsy’s wedding photo in the same hinged double frame, where a picture of the groom would be, was a photograph of her, Delia, in the dress she wore to the Gateway the first time they went dancing.

Her hands went up to her mouth as she gasped in disbelief and shock at what her eyes were seeing; Oh my god, Patsy was suspended in time, trapped in the past, Patsy had not moved on. Was this table her lifeline? Is this what kept her grounded? Did Patsy consider them wed? This was just too much for Delia to digest, and much, much too late. Her head was spinning and she desperately needed a shower.

After her long hot shower during which she liberally used Patsy’s expensive toiletries and lotions, Delia collapsed on the bed, and as she was drifting off, she said out loud, ’Patsy, I just can’t go back and love you again; I just can’t’.

Chapter Text

Delia could hear her screaming and cursing as soon as she stepped off the elevator.

‘ Get these goddamn restraints off my wrists; you can’t hold me against my will! I’ll sue the hell out of this place. For god’s sake, someone kill those snakes crawling up the wall, I’m terrified of snakes. Someone help me, please’, she said as her screams turned into a whimper.

Delia wasn’t prepared for what she saw as she entered the room; Patsy was flailing in her bed, violently jerking at the wrist restraints attached to the bed rails and wildly kicking her legs. Her hair was tangled and unkempt, and she was obviously in a highly agitated state. The thought flashed through Delia’s mind that Patsy’s head could just start spinning around and she might spew green bilge at her, but Delia’s training and experience recognized that the symptoms were of alcohol withdrawal, not demonic possession.

‘Patsy, please settle down; you’re going to injure yourself if you don’t’.

Patsy was taken aback by Delia’s sudden appearance. ‘What are you doing here, Delia? You’ve got to get me out of here, Delia; there are things in here trying to hurt me. Why am I being held against my will? Who put me here?’ Patsy began tugging at her restraints, but broke down in tears when she realized the futility of if.

Patsy, uhh, I, I put you here after you tried, umm, to kill yourself once I left you after dinner last night’.

With a confused expression, Patsy asked “ how did you know if you had already left? I don’t understand’.

‘My sixth sense kicked in; I just felt like you had hit bottom, and might be a danger to yourself. I just couldn’t let that happen, so I turned around and came back’.

Patsy let out a big rush of air, and said ‘I wish you would have kept going’.

‘Well. I didn’t; I’m here now, and I’ve taken charge of your care, temporarily that is’.

‘You can’t do that; I never gave you permission to take charge of me; you have no right to just waltz back into my life and act like you own me’.

‘Patsy, you were incapacitated, someone had to tend to your welfare; I told them I was you relative by marriage, and your only living relative. It’s basically the truth, in a manner of speaking, Delia said with a grin’.

‘You’re in the psychiatric ward for awhile as you go through alcohol withdrawal. Patsy, the worst has yet to come, but it’s something you have to get through. You should start getting medication that will ease your withdrawal symptoms. In the meantime, I’ve extended my leave and will be here to help you get through this, and then we’ll decide what the next step will be’.

Patsy exhibited some involuntarily twitches, and was sweating profusely, but her agitation had moderated somewhat with Delia’s presence. ‘Deels, I’m scared, I don’t think I can do this. It would be better to just let me die’.

‘Patsy, you stop talking like that; I’m not going to let you die; you’re going walk through this dark, scary tunnel and come out on the other side; I’ll see to that’.

Patsy pursed her lips, and said in a timid, little girl’s voice, ‘does this mean you love me again?’

Delia closed her eyes and looked toward the floor, ‘Patsy, you are a human being who is suffering; I’m a nurse, my life is committed to helping people who are suffering. Let’s just leave it at that, ok? By the way, I’ve been staying at your house, hope you don’t mind’.

‘Of course, I don’t mind’, Patsy jerked her head suddenly as a look of terror crossed her face, ‘Delia, where are you sleeping?’

Delia suspected Patsy’s alarm was caused by the fear that she may have discovered Patsy’s shrine to them, so decided that discretion might be better in this situation, so she told her she had been sleeping on the sofa in the cozy nook where they had drinks and dinner, and using the guest bathroom down the hall.

Relief immediately came across Patsy's sheepish face and she visibly relaxed. Just as she was telling Delia that there was a guest room on the second level, a nurse came in with her medication.

Patsy was leery of taking pills without knowing what they were, so Delia told her it was Valium, an anti anxiety drug that was widely used during detoxification, and that it would help her relax and mitigate her withdrawal symptoms. Delia took the pill cup from the duty nurse and held it to Patsy’s lips instructing her to take it, which she did.

Delia helped Patsy lay back in bed, smoothed her hair, and stroked her arm until she drifted off to sleep. Once she was sure Patsy was resting, she left the room in search of some literature on a new, state of the art inpatient treatment facility about an hour away from her new duty station. It was patterned after a treatment concept in America, and she was going to convince Patsy that she needed to spend some time there. The reality of being sucked back into the life she turned away from many years ago landed heavily on her shoulders; if she was going to have to take some responsibility in righting Patsy’s capsized life, it might as well be a bit convenient for her too.

*****

Over the next week Patsy’s body and mind reacted violently to the dropping alcohol levels, and she experienced terrible hallucinations, frequently returning to the horrors of the internment camps that now included snakes and spiders and other frightening creatures. She was put in restraints as a matter of her safety.

Delia would be with her through the worst of these episodes, trying to keep her grounded in the present, but frequently Patsy didn’t recognize her, and would have to be heavily medicated. Eventually the symptoms subsided as her body found a new equilibrium and she was able to go longer stretches of time without medication.

During one of the moments of quasi lucidity, Delia presented her with two proposals to consider: would Patsy give written consent for Delia to manage her health care needs until she were able to do so again; and would she consider going to an inpatient addiction center for rehabilitation. Patsy being Patsy, put forth a false front of indignation, telling Delia she was perfectly capable of making her own healthcare decisions, and that she was certainly not going to a looney bin where they would scramble her brains like was done to Sister Mary Cynthia.

Delia recognized the false bravado as she had dealt with in many times in their past, and she instinctively knew that Patsy would eventually grant consent, at least for the healthcare option; she just had to give her time to digest the idea. However, the prospect of inpatient care was going to take more convincing; she assured Patsy that her brains would not be fried, ECT was rarely used anymore as the first treatment option, and that she would never give consent for that knowing Patsy was so opposed to it.

Delia sat by Patsy’s bedside, held her hand and told her about the new concepts in addiction treatment, and that she personally knew the administrators at this Scottish center, as well as many of the nurses who had served with her in the medical corps before they left for civilian practice. She would be treated with respect and gentleness, although there would definitely be regimentation she would have to follow.

Patsy questioned what type of regimentation she would be subjected to. Was she going to have to march in some type of formation, stand at attention and salute someone, make her bed so tight she could bounce a coin off of it?

‘No, you silly goose, you’ll be doing things such as participating in group therapy sessions and physical exercise’.

‘Deels, you know how much I hate exercise’, exclaimed Patsy, while throwing her hand to her forehead in mock fainting mode.

Delia laughed and assured her that she wouldn’t be training for the Olympics, but would probably start out walking with an attendant several times a day just to get some fresh air in her lungs and to strengthen her atrophied leg muscles.

‘Is it expensive, Delia’?

Yes, Patsy, it is; it’s a private facility, state of the art, but you can afford it, and it would be such a positive investment in yourself. I know you’re worth it’.

‘Do you really think I’m worth it, Deels?, said Patsy while trying not to tear up.

‘I absolutely do. This concept incorporates evidence based therapeutic practices that help people discover the root of their addictions so that they can work toward controlling their impulses and develop positive coping strategies. I know their methods are effective, and I might be interested in running one someday when I’m retired from the QARANC’.

Patsy grumbled, gave her trademark pouty smile, and told Delia she would think about it, and to leave the brochures on the bedside table.

Delia had observed that even with Patsy’s violent withdrawal symptoms, her body was responding to the absence of alcohol and nicotine; the ashen pallor of her complexion was beginning to show a hint of pink, indicating her blood flow was less contaminated by the booze and cigarette toxins now being flushed from her system. The IV fluids had rehydrated her body so that her so that her dry and wrinkled skin was somewhat plumped up. If outwardly her body was responding so favorably, then a similar thing could be happening on the inside, at least Delia fervently hoped so. Maybe Patsy had not yet used all of her nine lives.

Patsy finally gave legal consent to both options, placing total trust in the woman who had abandoned her over a decade ago. Delia, for her part, was still holding her emotions at bay, telling herself she was only being a good samaritan, and as soon as Patsy was sufficiently recovered, they would go back to their lives independent of one another.

Chapter Text

Patsy was dressed and ready to leave the hospital when Delia arrived to take her by the house to pack her clothes and personal items before driving her to the Scottish rehabilitation center enroute to her new duty station.

Patsy’s jaw dropped as she entered her home; it was so light and airy and smelled so fresh that she thought for a moment she was in the wrong house. Delia told her that she had hired a professional cleaning company to come in shampoo the carpets, scrub the floors and walls, and clean the drapes to remove the layers of cigarette residue. She apologetically told Patsy she hoped she didn’t mind her taking liberties while staying there. Patsy replied that she certainly was not offended by the scrubbing and and insisted that she reimburse Delia for the cost of the cleaning. Delia demurred and told her it was recompense for her lodging and she would not take any money. Besides, she still owed money for all the phones calls she had placed to her new duty station.

Patsy’s face became tense and she anxiously asked if all of the house had been cleaned. Delia knew what brought on this anxiety, and told her everything but her personal suite had been cleaned; she would not let anyone violate her personal space without her approval. Patsy visibly relaxed, said she was going to get a few items, maybe take a real shower, and be ready to head for her punishment in about an hour.

 

When she entered her bedroom, the smell of stale cigarette smoke assaulted her senses, and it was obvious that Delia was telling her the truth that her personal suite had not been violated; she had not smoked since the night she was taken to the hospital, and by now, her system had ridded itself of the stench. She wondered if she would have to wash her clothes before packing for the trip to Scotland; she decided that she did, and took an armful of clothes to the laundry area.

Delia was downstairs with her bags, ready to go whenever Patsy was ready. She took Patsy’s smoke infused clothes and washed them while Patsy went to shower.

 

She had just sat down to read when Patsy sauntered out with a smug expression, and announced that her legs finally felt smooth again as she had shaved them with a real razor. ‘ Look, feel, no more stubble, smooth as silk’ she winked at Delia.

Upon hearing this, Delia gasped as the color drained from her face. Oh, god, it hadn’t crossed her mind that Patsy would have a razor in her bathroom.

‘it’s okay, Deels, look, my wrists are fine, no slashes, I didn’t even nick my legs. I’m okay, really I am. I tried on the clothes I’m taking with me, the ones you are washing, and they felt a bit snug; I’ll have to watch my food consumption or my buttons will pop off’.

Delia flashed her trademark dimples and said, ‘Patsy, your clothes actually fit for a change instead of looking like you’re wearing an empty potato sack. You need to gain some weight. There’s a boutique on site if you need new clothes; you and Trixie were always clothes horses, so you’ll have a legitimate reason to shop, said Delia with a wink.

Patsy wrote a note for her housekeeper, locked the door and followed Delia to the car. They had about a seven hour drive ahead of them according to Delia’s calculations, but she intended to make it to Edinburgh in time to get Patsy checked in and settled for the night.

As they were heading down a commercial stretch of street enroute to the motorway, Patsy suddenly had a perplexed expression cross her face as she peered into the distance. ‘Delia what those garish yellow humps sticking up in the air?’

‘Patsy, you really have been a recluse, those belong to the latest American indulgence that is now infiltrating our staid ole England. Those are the golden arches of McDonald’s’.

‘Just what is a McDonald’s’ asked Patsy with raised eyebrow. ‘It sounds Scottish; do they serve haggis? I certainly hope not’.

‘Patsy, it’s what is referred to as ‘fast food. You drive up, go up to a window, order your food which is served in paper and you eat it in your car. They have ground meat sandwiches and chips; it’s really not bad, and no, they don’t serve haggis’.

‘How pedestrian’ groaned Patsy, ‘but I am famished, can we try this American monstrosity? I really don’t trust myself to go into a pub where I could be tempted to drink; I never want to experience detox again, but it’s too soon to test my resolve, besides all pubs would reek of smoke. Deels, I just had no idea how badly I smelled until I got that fetid odor off my body and out of my system’.

‘Of course, Patsy, I understand’, Delia responded and pulled into the parking area. ‘Oh, look, this one has a picnic table; you sit there while I get our food, it’ll only take a minute. Do you know what you want?’

Of course not, Delia, I don’t even know what they offer; surprise me, I’ll trust your impeccable taste’, Patsy winked at Delia.

Delia shortly returned carrying a tray on which rested two sandwiches wrapped in paper, two sleeves of chips, and two paper cups of some sort of beverage. ‘I got us ground meat sandwiches with cheese. They come with condiments on them, so hope you like pickles, mustard, and catsup. I also brought some malt vinegar for your chips as I remember you liked to drench yours in it; there’s coca cola in the cups, and I told them not much ice since we’re British; Americans fill their cups with ice and cover it with a little cola.’

‘How on earth did they ever beat us?’ asked Patsy as she gave her lopsided smile while liberally splashing vinegar on her chips.

‘Perhaps it was because they were strutting around like peacocks in those red coats’, chimed Delia.

Patsy no sooner popped a chip in her mouth than she began fitfully coughing and scrunching her face in distress, ‘Oh god. Deels, my taste buds can’t handle the tartness anymore; I’m afraid I’ve ruined my chips’, she said through strained coughs.

While trying to stifle a laugh, Delia was barely able to say, ‘Not to worry, Patsy, I’ll get you some fresh ones, they only costs pennies. Would you like to try some catsup this time?’ Patsy nodded affirmatively, still trying to clear the vinegar from her vocal cords, before biting into her sandwich.

When Delia returned with fresh chips, Patsy’s sandwich was completely gone. ‘Patsy, what happened to your sandwich? Did you drop it on the ground?’ asked a very perplexed Delia while glancing around and under the table for the missing sandwich.

 

Oh, Deels’ she said sheepishly while wiping a spot of grease from the corner of her mouth, ‘don’t ever tell anyone, but that was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.’

‘Your secret is safe with me, madam’, winked Delia as she popped a chip in her mouth.

Chapter Text

They agreed after the unscheduled McDonald’s stop that they would drive straight through, only stopping for petrol and toilet breaks. At each rest stop, Patsy would buy candy, crisps,and a beverage, causing Delia to slowly exhale and silently hope Patsy wasn’t trading one bad habit for another. She knew how difficult it was for people to break the smoking habit, and how addicts frequently craved sugar during withdrawal. Having worked with patients who were enrolled in treatment programs, Delia remained silent and let Patsy indulge herself, knowing that she would soon be considering better coping strategies.

The landscape changed as soon as they crossed the border into Scotland. Rolling green hills surrounded them and helped to reduce Patsy’s anxiety somewhat. However, as they progressed further into the Scottish countryside, she started fidgeting and wringing her hands and popping her knuckles. ‘What’s the matter, Patsy, you seem so restless?’

‘I Just don’t know what to do with my hands; I guess I didn’t realize the hand to mouth gratification one gets from smoking’.

Delia glanced quickly at her, and said, ‘you could take up knitting and chewing gum’.

Patsy, with a suggestive grin said, ‘well, I can think of other things I would rather do with my hands and mouth, Deels’.

Delia deadpanned, ‘knit one, purl two, Patsy; knit one, purl two, and there's gum in the glove box’.

Patsy snorted and told Delia she was no fun, but before Delia could respond, Patsy made a pouty face, and said, ‘I’m just scared I can’t do
Can we turn around and go back? I can do it on my own’.

‘No, Patsy’, said Delia in as gentle voice as she could muster, ‘we’re not turning around; you can’t do it on your own and you know it. You’re the bravest person I’ve ever known; look at what you have already survived. You just have to accept the fact that you need some professional help to exorcise those demons that continue to torment you. I know you can do this; you’ve got to do this. I have complete confidence in you, and besides I’ll be only about an hour away, and I’ll come to visit you as soon as they’ll let me’.

‘Oh, Deels’, whined Patsy, ‘why are you wasting your time on a broken down old hag like me. You need to get on with your life; I’ll be fine, just let me be’.

Delia spontaneously reached over, gently grabbed Patsy’s fidgeting right hand, and softly uttered, ‘but you’re my old hag, Pats’, as she pulled her hand to her lips and gently kissed it.

Delia was so shocked by what she had just said and done, that she veered off the road and had to carefully swerve to get back on the tarmac. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you’, she nervously said.

‘No, I’m fine, I hardly noticed’, Patsy softly said, still holding Delia’s left hand, while glancing out the window to hide a slight smile on her lips.

‘There’s a latch on the side of the seat where you can let the seat back down and take a nap if you want to’, Delia urged Patsy.

‘That would be wonderful’ Patsy said wistfully, and did just that, all the while holding on to Delia’s left hand.

They drove on in silence while Patsy slept, still holding Delia’s hand, and while Delia mentally chastised herself for her impromptu slip of the tongue. She had no idea why she said it; she certainly didn’t mean it; she had no time for any woman, haggardly or not, in her life at the moment, if ever again. She especially had no time for this woman who had so completely destroyed her heart. She, Delia Busby, had mountains to climb and goals to reach, and she certainly didn’t need any excess baggage weighing her down. She would just get Patsy settled in at the rehab center, and be on her way. Of course she would check in on her like she promised, but Patsy was on her own to work through her issues; Delia didn’t own these issues, they belonged to Patsy alone, and she wasn’t about to take any ownership at all.

*****

Delia’s shoulder ached and her arm and fingers were asleep; she gently extracted her hand from Patsy’s grip and worked her fingers up and down trying to regain feeling. Patsy, for her part, had slumped over against Delia’s seat back and was in a deep sleep. Even though she had not taken any medication since last night, there must have been residual amounts still in her system. Her smoking cessation had slowed her metabolism and her body apparently wasn’t ridding itself of medication quite as fast now days, at least that was how Delia rationalized it.

When they were about thirty minutes from the Center, Delia gently touched Patsy’s arm and softly said, ‘Patsy, you need to start waking up and get yourself together, we’ll be there shortly’.

Patsy groaned, ‘how long have I been asleep? I’ve missed the scenery; I won’t know how to get back home when I run away’.

Delia laughed and played along with Patsy’s protest, ‘it is a very long walk, but it’s pretty much a straight shot back to England, I think your feet will wear out before you get lost’.

‘Here we are; that’s it on the right’. On either side of the gravel driveway were white rail fences marking the entrance. The driveway was a narrow strip between rolling pastures; the kind of path that seemed to invite one to follow it just to see where it would lead. They drove for about a mile before any building came into sight.

‘Oh my’, Patsy exclaimed as the sprawling one story building came into view. ‘It doesn’t look like an institution at all. Deels, are you sure you’re not talking me to a European spa instead of the looney bin?’

Delia laughed, ‘Patsy, you are not going to a looney bin; you’re not looney, you just have self destructive methods of coping with your demons that you are going to work hard to expel while here’.

‘But You’re right, it is luxurious, it’s supposed to be, after all, you’re paying a pretty penny to be here. The idea behind this concept is that people do better in fighting their demons when they are in supportive, tranquil, relaxing environments. That doesn’t mean you won’t have goals to reach and daily tasks to do. You’ll work really hard in group sessions, as well as individual therapy sessions, and you may get tired of the endless regimentation and lack of privacy, but I think you will also enjoy the amenities the facility offers’, chimed Delia as she brought the car to a stop at the front entrance.

‘Whatever do you mean, lack of privacy?’ I do hope I won’t be living in a barracks, Delia.’ ‘You do remember I’ve practically been a recluse for several years now. Constantly being around people, especially people I don’t know, could cause me to relapse. And, don’t forget I’ve already spent far too much time in an overcrowded, filthy barracks like environment’.

‘Patsy, said Delia, somewhat annoyed, ‘you will have a private bedroom and bath, but you will take your meals with the other guests. You will be monitored for things like cooperation with staff, interactions with other guests at meals and leisure times, and during group sessions.

‘They will monitor your food intake, blood chemistry, even your output, at least initially’.

‘Well I shall make sure I don’t disappoint then’, said Patsy sardonically as she haughtily exited the car.

Delia grinned as she got Patsy’s suitcase from the boot and escorted her into the reception area.

*****

The reception area was bright and pleasant, accented with natural as well as artificial light. Behind a semicircular desk sat a tall, middle aged woman of African decent. ‘Is that Delia Busby?’, said the woman with a rolling West Indies accent. ‘How are you, ma’am; I haven’t seen you since Brunei. Time has treated you well, Delia’.

Delia could hardly contain her joy at seeing this woman. ‘ Cassandra! Oh my gosh, I’m delighted to see you; I had not heard you were here. How wonderful. This is Miss Patience Mount, and she will be a guest here for awhile’.

‘Ah, I’ve been expecting you, Miss Mount. We’ll be spending a lot of time together, you and I; I’m your nurse and attendant; we’re going to have some good times together’.

‘I’m pleased to meet you, Cassandra, and please call me Patsy, assuming the rules permit you to do so’, Patsy said in her very proper English accident while extending her right hand.

The first thing we gonna do is go over your paperwork and then we gonna get you checked into your room; then we gonna take a tour of this place so you can see what amenities await you. By then, it will be dinner time and you can meet the other guests. The food here is very good, Patsy’.

‘Good, I was dreading bread and water three times a day’, Patsy said with all the sarcasm she could muster.

As Cassandra rose and came around the desk, Patsy noticed that they were about the same height, and thought to herself, ‘at least we can see eye to eye; I already have one Tasmanian Devil ruling my life at the moment, another one would be a bit much.'

Cassandra escorted Patsy and Delia into an office and began verifying the information on Patsy’s application and biographical data sheet.
‘You were born in Singapore in 1933 to Catherine and Charles Mount. You are the oldest of two daughters’. Patsy shook her head affirmatively.

Cassandra continued, ‘your parents and sister are deceased, right’? Patsy nodded yes. ‘You are divorced and have no living relatives, and Delia is your power of attorney and contact for any emergencies or health concerns?’ A sad expression came over Patsy’s face and she indicated the information was correct. Delia was biting back tears seeing Patsy’s sadness.

‘You were a certified nurse and midwife, but are no longer practicing. Is that correct?’ Again, Patsy nodded in the affirmative.

‘And one final thing, your stay and treatment are to be billed to the Charles Mount Foundation?’

‘That’s correct’, replied Patsy.

‘That takes care of the paperwork, now we can go check you into your room. Come along, please’.

Cassandra led them down a softly lit hallway to the last room on the left. ‘This is your home for the next few months’.

Patsy stood just inside the doorway and took in the features of her new home away from home. The room was quite pleasant with recessed lighting giving a warm glow that complemented the muted sandstone painted walls. In the center of the room against the wall was a full sized bed with bedside tables and reading lamps on either side. The floor was covered in wall to wall carpeting a shade or two darker than the walls, creating a very warm and tranquil feeling. There was a desk against one wall, a wardrobe against the opposite wall, and next to the large window sat an overstuffed chair and matching ottoman. Patsy looked at all of it, pursed her lips, and gave a nodding approval.

‘Now, Patsy, I need to check you in; Delia, you can stay if Patsy doesn’t mind’, said Cassandra.

‘No I don’t mind, Delia, please stay with me’, pleaded Patsy.

‘Of course’, was Delia’s soft reply. She had purposely omitted the next step when telling Patsy about the facility.

Cassandra took a deep breath, blew it out and said in as neutral tone as she could muster,‘ Now the first thing I have to ask you to do, Patsy, is remove your clothes so I can note that you don’t have anything on you that you shouldn’t’.

‘Excuse me, you want me to remove my clothing?’ said an incredulous Patsy whose neck and face were beginning to turn a blistering shade of red. ‘This is preposterous, I can assure you that I’m not hiding a bottle of scotch is any orifice!!’

‘Patsy, interjected Delia, ‘this is protocol, it’s just a ……’

A highly enraged Patsy screamed at Delia while reluctantly removing her outer garments, ‘Turn around, Delia, you lost that privilege years ago!!’

‘Thank you, Patsy’, said a very calm Cassandra, ‘ now I must ask you to remove your bra and panties, and bend over for me; I’m sorry, but I must ask you to do this’.

‘Oh, I am not believing this; I have never been so humiliated in my life!!’, shouted a distressed Patsy as she complied with Cassandra’s order.

‘Patsy, it’s just protocol, everyone has to go through the initial body….’ouch!!’ a surprised Delia shouted as the heel of Patsy’s pump hit her squarely between the shoulder blades.

‘Ah , no, no, no, Patsy. We can’t be throwing things at people; I won’t note it this time ‘cause i know you didn’t mean to hurt Delia’.

‘Delia, I hate you; I’m never forgiving you for this’, said a chastened, but still furious Patsy.

‘Thank you, Patsy, you may get dressed now while I check your suitcase for you, said a relieved Cassandra.

‘May I turn around now?’ asked Delia.

‘Yes, please do; I hope you turn into a pillar of salt in the process!!’

Delia’s heart ached when she turned around and saw a splotchy faced Patsy buttoning the last button on her blouse, ‘Oh, cariad, I’m so sor….’

‘Don’t you ‘cariad’ me; you lost that privilege too’, Patsy yelled, fighting back tears, as she wheeled around toward Cassandra, and said, ‘shall we get on with the tour?’

Delia came up beside Patsy, and softly touched her arm, whispering, I’m really sorry’, but Patsy jerked away and shot daggers at Delia.

Delia, embarrassed and angry at herself, said dejectedly, ‘I’ll be on my way and let you two do the tour’, but before she could walk around Patsy, Patsy turned to her and said with a pouty face, ‘ you can’t leave yet, Delia; I’m, uh, not finished being mad at you’.

Delia rolled her sad eyes and laughingly said, ‘ I can hardly wait to see what other punishments you have in store for me’. She then put her hand in the small of Patsy’s back and guided her toward the door. This time, Patsy did not swat her away.

Cassandra walked them by the spa and the boutique, both of which piqued Patsy’s interest and she was noticeably more relaxed. Cassandra next walked them past the homeopathic and alternative medicine suite, and noted that acupuncture was an option that many clients chose for a help with cessation and anxiety issues.

‘Pseudo science, voodoo medicine’, barked Patsy.

‘Oh no, Patsy, it has been used for centuries and has a very good success rate’, said Delia.

‘Patsy turned to her with a mischievous expression and whispered, ‘I’m going to get a voodoo doll of you, and guess where I’m sticking the pins’, to which Delia just gave an exaggerated eye roll.

*****
After the tour, Cassandra invited Delia to have dinner with them before she left. It was late, she still had at least an hour’s drive ahead of her, and she didn’t know what eating facility would still be open by the time she got to base, so she accepted Cassandra’s offer, much to the relief of Patience Mount.

The dining room could be described as casual elegance, with linen tablecloths and napkins, and china and stemware on each table. Tonight diners had a choice of either roast beef with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, or poached salmon with rice and steamed vegetables. Seeing Patsy’s look of distress, Delia softly informed Cassandra that Miss Mount was never to be served rice, never, under any circumstances. The order was duly noted by Cassandra, who also observed that Patsy was biting her bottom lip while fighting back tears. Patsy looked at Delia and whispered, ‘thank you’.

With Cassandra’s approval, Delia walked Patsy to her room while Cassandra stopped at the desk. Once inside, she took her to the window. ‘Patsy do you see that water tower in the distance?’; Pasty nodded that she did. ‘Well, that is the tower on the base where I’ll be; when things get difficult, just look over at that tower and know that I’m nearby’.

With that, she gave Patsy a hug, and reached up to give her a peck on the cheek, but just as her lips were ready to touch Patsy’s cheek, Patsy turned toward Delia causing their lips to suddenly meet in a surprising kiss. Both, wide eyed and a bit weak in the knees, stepped back from the other. Delia was finally able to squeak a whispered ‘be brave, cariad’, and left the room without looking back.

Chapter Text

Patsy donned her pajamas, removed her makeup, and brushed her teeth before snuggling under the warm covers surrounded by pillows on either side. She was exhausted from the stress of the journey and the anxiety of the unknown, but beyond this, she felt safe, emotionally safe. She didn’t have the energy to analyze why this new place was giving her such a feeling of calm, only that it did. And with that comforting feeling, she drifted off into a deep, restful sleep.

Delia, on the other hand, could barely keep her mind on her driving. She tried to keep her mind on her new job, making mental to do lists, but her thoughts were continually interrupted by recent events. If she were totally honest with herself, she would admit that being Patsy’s caretaker had endeared the redhead to her a bit. As she recovered from her brush with death, they did seem to have a connection of sorts; at times being in Patsy’s company was enjoyable, and comfortable; not exactly like old times, but a degree of familiarity that spoke of a simpler time before the world left harsh marks of reality on both of them They had both changed, Delia had discovered herself, Patsy had wallowed in the mess she had made for herself, but with Delia as an anchor, seemed to be willing to work toward a new beginning. Their repartee was natural and comfortable. Patsy could always find humor in a delicate situation to break the tension, at least she could before their world was torn apart by forces outside of their control. Delia had seen some of the old Patsy shine through in some of their current experiences, and this offered hope for her recovery.

Delia wasn’t yet to the point of asking herself why she didn’t leave once Patsy was stabilized while still in the hospital, or why she felt she needed to take charge, or why Patsy had acquiesced so readily.

The drive to Scotland had been enjoyable; fun even, Patsy’s first experience with fast food was something that gave Delia’s heart a squeeze. Her posh Pats devouring a sandwich like a dock worker, and being totally unapologetic about it.

Perplexing Delia was her own spontaneous action in the car. She was still embarrassed by it and had no idea why she had done it. She didn't mean to reclaim Patsy, no, that was out of the question. Or, why she continued to hold Patsy’s hand even while she slept. Just comforting a suffering soul? Was she comforting herself in the process? Now was not the time to question her feelings too deeply.

How would she ever explain to Patsy the omission about the body check? Probably something that Patsy would hold over her forever. Then there was the accidental kiss. It really was just an accident, unintentional, but it sparked something in Delia nevertheless, something akin to a mild electrical shock. She had forgotten just how special Patsy’s lips were, how soft and expressive when she kissed her. Delia had kissed quite a few other women since she left Patsy, but none had aroused the feelings in her and throughout her that Patsy’s kisses always did, and obviously still did. Oh, she rationalized, she had been without for so long that kissing anything might elicit the same feelings. She was trying with all of her might to disregard the tingling sensations she was feeling in her groin that started right after the kiss.

Finally she was on base and checked into her room in the guest house. She removed her makeup, brushed her teeth, put on her gown and crawled into a twin sized bed that assaulted her skin with stiff scratchy sheets. Her mind would not calm down, try as she might, thoughts of that day continued to torment her, especially in her groin area. Finally in total surrender, her hand crept downward in spite of her best intentions and provided temporary relief to her tingling nether region. Just nerves, just nerves, she rationalized.

*****

After a fitful night of sleep, Delia rose at five o’clock, put on her running shorts, tank top, shoes, and headed out of the guest house for her morning run. Maybe a good run would clear the fog from her head, she certainly needed to be sharp when she met with the chief principal matron, Colonel Ursula Houston, to whom she would directly report.

She ran through the base until she found a well trod path that veered off through a meadow, which she followed for at least a mile; the fresh, clean air did invigorate her and helped her get her focus on the day ahead. As she headed back toward the base, she slowed her run to a trot and then to a jog before falling into a walk to cool down before going back to the guest house. As she rounded a corner near the guest quarters, she saw a car coming toward her with an emblem in the windshield indicating a higher ranking officer was approaching, so she stopped, saluted as the car passed and then went on her way.

Delia took extra pains to insure her insignia sparkled, her pumps polished and glistening, and her uniform wrinkle free before donning her hat, swinging her regulation purse over her shoulder, and heading out of the door to meet with Colonel Houston. She put her fitful night out of her mind and was eager to ‘hit the ground running’, demonstrated by her confident walk to Colonel Houston’s office.

The clerk stood as she saw Delia enter the ante room, and after pleasantries, escorted her into the Colonel’s office. She rendered a sharp salute and a big dimpled smile, of which only the first was returned. Colonel Houston was a severe looking woman, and anachronism from WWII, whose generational difference with Delia’s was obvious.

‘Have a seat Lieutenant Colonel Busby; I’m glad you have finally joined us. I understand you had some family issues that delayed your arrival; am I to assume your personal issues have been resolved and you are now ready to assume your responsibilities unencumbered by personal matters?’

A sobered Delia commented, ‘yes, uh, yes my unexpected issues have been resolved, and I am more than ready to ‘hit the ground running; I’m so very glad to be here and look forward to working with you’.

‘Actually you work for me’, Colonel Houston said bitingly. ‘Speaking of running, Lieutenant Colonel Busby, I believe the running attire I saw you in this morning is totally inappropriate for someone of your rank; you have tradition to uphold, and an example to set for our young nurses; running through base in what could pass for your undergarments reflects most unfavorably on all of us; I do not expect to see such a display of vulgarity again. Am I understood?’

Delia, dumbfounded, speechless, aghast, and red faced, finally found her voice, and sputtered, ‘I had no idea my attire was inappropriate, my shorts were mid-thigh and my top was loose fitting; this is the attire women runners wear these days; I certainly did not intend to display any vulgarity; what do women wear here when they exercise, Colonel Houston?’

‘They wear loose blouses and long pants if they must run outside; I much prefer it if they refrain from such unladylike activities. I can request an exemption from the physical fitness requirement for you since you are over 40; that is one good thing about getting older, we don’t have to participate in such distasteful activities.’

Delia sat stone faced while she processed what had just taken place. She as yet didn’t even know where her office was, and the way this meeting was going, she may never find out. She was finally able to mutter, ‘I will make sure I am covered when I run, but I do not wish to have an exemption from the fitness requirement; exercise helps me clear the clutter from my head, ma’am.’

After an uncomfortable pause, a stony faced Colonel Houston said, ‘You come highly recommended, and I have every hope that you will adhere to the high standards I set for my subordinates, which brings me to another issue. I noticed you were out of uniform as you strutted across the street this morning.’

Delia’s mouth fell open, and a look of disbelief crossed her face, ‘What!’ I took every pain to make sure my uniform was immaculate before I left my room; whatever are you referring to, ma’am?’

‘We don’t sling our purses on our shoulders in this command; we carry them over our left arm in ladylike fashion, leaving our right hand free to salute. Where are you gloves, Ms. Busby? They are an essential component of your uniform!, but yet, there you were in public bare handed’.

‘I haven’t worn gloves with my uniform in years’, Delia incredulously said; ‘I don’t even know where they are’.

‘Well, I suggest you find a pair before tomorrow; there is a clothing sales store on base.’

Fighting back her fury, Delia uttered between clenched teeth, ‘I shall insure I have a pair of gloves before the day is out, ma’am’.

‘Good. Now I will have the clerk escort you to your office, and give you a tour of the medical complex. I will meet with you later in the day to address some issues I want your attention devoted to’. ‘Dismissed’, she said as she returned Delia’s salute.

Delia thought to herself as she was leaving the office, 'jeezz, the big bang missed one’.

*****
Patsy was in a deep sleep when she heard a tap, tap, tap on the door. ‘Time to wake up, Patsy; it’s six o’clock, and breakfast is in an hour’. Patsy opened one eye while reaching across the bed in search of Delia. She must be in the bathroom thought Patsy. For a fleeting moment with the fog of deep sleep still clouding her mind, Patsy was back in their room on the French Riviera; she could practically smell Delia’s hair, taste her lips, and then poof, the feeling was gone, replaced by the reality of where she was.

She was in the looney bin, put here by Delia after an intense evening that ended in her trying to take her own life. Delia didn’t force her to be here, she had agreed to come; she was very aware that she was on a self destructive path, and if she had any hope of regaining control of her life, and possibly reunite with the love of her life, now was the time to do it; there would be no more second or third chances.

As she became fully awake, she remembered that awkward kiss last night. She didn’t intend for their lips to meet; she was going to ask Delia a question and merely turned her head to do so when it happened; she didn’t regret that it happened, especially considering how Delia reacted, she saw and felt the spark go through Delia. She smiled and stretched her body as far as it would go in both directions. She couldn’t remember the last time she had had such a restful night’s sleep, probably while she was still at Nonnatus House before her father called for her to come to Hong Kong. Of course, her treatment here had not started yet, so she must not get too cozy, not just yet.

She rose from bed, showered, applied makeup, and styled her hair before selecting her wardrobe for the day. Gray houndstooth checked slacks, and a deep blue shirtwaist, complemented by a solid gray blazer. She chose comfortable black flats to complete her wardrobe.

Heads did turn in her direction as she entered the dining room. Patience Mount at 45 was still a very striking woman now that she was sober and nicotine free. As Cassandra rose to signal her, the man sitting next to her asked, ‘who is that classy chick?’ She doesn’t look like she has any problems that money can’t fix’.

‘Money doesn’t immunize anyone from pain, George’, Cassandra said as she greeted Patsy. ‘Good morning, Patsy. I hope you slept well last night. Are you hungry this morning?’

‘I slept like a baby last night, and yes, I’m starving this morning, Cassandra. I hope you are well today’, said Patsy with a pleasant smile.

‘ Patsy, let me introduce you to your tablemates; this is George Westbrook. George is from the Midlands, and joined us a little over a week ago. George, this is Patsy Mount and she arrived last night’.

‘Pleased ta meetcha, Miss Mount. What ya in fa’, quipped George.

Patsy hid her displeasure at such a forward question, but knew honesty was expected by the program, so she politely said,’ I have issues with alcohol that I’m trying to resolve, George. What about you, what brings you here?’

‘Same ting, I hide in da bottle when things get tough’.

‘Well, let’s hope we’re both successful in coming to terms with our demons’, Patsy demurred as an image of Delia saying those exact words flashed across her mind.

Cassandra interjected herself into the conversation to introduce the other woman sitting at the table. ‘Patsy, this is Mary Beth Hendricks, and she had been here three days. The two of you will start out in group sessions together’. ‘Hello Mary Beth, I’m Patsy Mount, looks like we have quite an adventure ahead of us’. A very nervous and tearful Mary Beth replied, ‘yes, I suppose we do’, and quickly looked down at her plate.

‘ We have a breakfast buffet, so grab your plates and help yourselves to the food. Tea will be waiting for you when you return’, Cassandra informed them.

Patsy returned to the table with her plate piled high with scrambled eggs, bacon, baked beans, and toast, and a small bowl of fruit.

‘Boy, Patsy fa a cultured lady like yous self, you sure eat like a farm hand’, commented George.

‘Patsy frowned, pursed her lips, and delivered a measured response, ‘George, I have recently broken a thirty year smoking habit, and I have discovered that food tastes really good, I’ve been told that I need to gain weight, so i intend to compliment the chef by showing appreciation for his creations’. She then picked up a piece of bacon and crunched it in her mouth.

Patsy noticed that Mary Beth appeared to be far away in thought and was hardly touching her food. It would be interesting to hear her story, thought Patsy, totally forgetting that she also had a story to tell.

Cassandra made a mental note that Patsy was particularly ebullient this morning, an unusual demeanor for most people just starting rehab. She informed Patsy that they would be going for a walk as soon as breakfast was over, and to meet her in the lobby with her trainers on at eight o’clock.

*****
A much deflated Delia adjusted the strap on her handbag, slipped it over her forearm and went in search of the clothing store so that she could have a pair of regulations gloves before she met with Colonel Houston again. Her dream assignment, the one that was going to be a springboard to the top, was fast turning into a nightmare, and she could see her career disintegrating before her eyes if she wasn’t careful.

Delia was a progressive, a supporter of the social changes taking place is society and the world, a barrier breaker; she was frustrated with being confined to gender defined roles, and wanted more opportunities for women everywhere.

Colonel Houston was also a product of her time, an obsolete time that restricted women to narrowly defined roles and superficial facades. Unfortunately, her idea of success was based on form over substance.
She suspected that Colonel Houston’s obsession with ‘the look’ had more to do with the unspoken knowledge that many Army women, nurses included, were lesbian, and by controlling their public persona, the stigma would go away. Unfortunately, her insistence on form over substance also limited opportunities for Army women.

After purchasing her gloves, and donning them for her walk back to her office, she remembered she had to get her office phone number so she could call the rehab center and make it part of Patsy’s file. She put the tour of the medical complex on hold until she took care of this matter.

Cassandra answered the phone and was delighted to hear Delia’s voice on the other end. ‘Patsy had a good night and has done very well so far today’, she offered before Delia could even ask.

Delia thanked her for the good news, and then gave her the number where she could be reached should she be needed.

Cassandra advised her that the treatment team would like to schedule a conference call with her on Friday afternoon to discuss Patsy’s progress, which was protocol for all patients. They agreed on three o’clock, and Delia told her she would be in her office at that time to receive the call.
She then found her desk calendar, flipped to Friday, and wrote ‘important call, 3 p.m.’. She then took her pocket calendar from her purse and entered the same reminder.

She continued her tour of the various medical units that she would be supervising, ending up at a conference room where senior nurses from the joint and allied services were awaiting her arrival. Someone called attention, and the room fell silent as she entered the room. She immediately put them at ease, flashed a big dimpled smile and walked to the microphone set up for her to address the group.

In typical fashion, Delia captivated them and had them in the palm of her hands in no time. The atmosphere in the room changed from one of tenseness to one of elation and hopefulness. A Royal Navy nurse leaned to her Australian counterpart, and said ‘I think we’ll call her Colonel Dimples’. ‘I think so’, replied the Aussie with a wink.

After her remarks, she mingled among the nurses, enjoying tea and biscuits and getting to know her subordinates on a more informal level. Most were around her age, a few older, and several appeared to have similar opinions on social matters, felt comfortable enough with Delia to express dismay that an anachronism like Colonel Houston was put in charge of such a diverse organization as the one in which they now found themselves. Delia gave a measured response to their concerns, advising she had just briefly met with the woman, and did not know as yet what her stance was on issues of concern to them.

After an appropriate span of time, she went back to the microphone, thanked them for their warm reception, invited them to run with her each morning before excusing herself and departing the room. Mingling with her enthusiastic subordinates lifted her mood and lessened her trepidation of the meeting with Colonel Houston she would soon have.

Colonel Houston had not experienced a transformation since last they met. She told Delia she hoped she enjoyed such frivolousness in the middle of the day, that if she had known about it beforehand, she would have cancelled it and had a short assembly before shift change without refreshments or social time. She expected Delia to instill discipline and efficiency into nurses, currently they wasted too much time with unimportant things. Time would become their master, and sparseness their lifestyle. All Delia could do was give a slight head nod and a forced smile.

Colonel Houston informed Delia that she would be in charge of the Christmas party for the joint and allied units under her; she, Colonel Houston, had no interest in such a waste of time, and may not attend. Delia would be expected to host the affair in her home, and per the orders of the base commander, it was to be a strictly formal affair, complete with officer’s dress mess uniforms, which, for women, meant long skirts, and for men, black tie. Even though it was still late summer, she needed to start planning now.

Delia didn’t even have a permanent place to live yet. Because she was single, she didn’t qualify for a base house, normally single officers resided in the bachelor officers’ apartments, but because of her position and the attendant expectations, she needed more than an apartment. After much consternation, it was decided that an old house deemed inadequate for an officer’s family would be renovated especially for Delia’s occupancy. This decision pleased Delia as the house was on the other side of the base away from the area where senior officers now resided. It would afford her a degree of privacy that she otherwise would not have, and would certainly be large enough for formal entertaining. Unfortunately it would not be ready for occupancy for at least three more weeks, which meant Delia would be crammed in one room at the guest house a bit longer.

Before dismissing Delia, Colonel Houston assigned one additional task for her to organize and execute. The main hospital was short on doctors, and would have none should there be a deployment. The base commander had decided to alleviate the shortage by hiring contract civilian doctors. Delia was to assemble a panel of medical professionals, men and women, develop the interview questions in concert with the personnel department, schedule and conduct the interviews and make recommendations as to who should be hired. Applications were being screened by the personnel department at present, and the interviews should be conducted around the end of November, just a few weeks before the big Christmas party.

Colonel Houston dismissed her without looking up.

On her way back to her office, Delia pondered her current situation. What was it about her that struck the Colonel so negatively. Why couldn’t she establish a rapport with this woman? Did she deal with all subordinates in the manner, was there something about Delia that she just instinctively disliked? She had never been treated so dismissively since she was a new student nurse at The London; the QARANC had embraced her from the beginning of her career as she had proven her worth over and over again. She needed to focus her energies on the diverse units she now supervised, insuring they were mission ready, and not dwell on her relationship with the Colonel. And, of course there was Patsy and her rehabilitation to stay abreast of. She hadn’t had time to think much about Patsy since scheduling the conference call, but she did hope that the remainder of her day had been as positive as its start.

Chapter Text

Patsy was anxiously waiting for Cassandra in the reception area when she saw her round the corner coming toward her.

‘Ah, there you are; you look like a racehorse pounding the ground waiting for the gate to open. Shall we go’, she said as she motioned for Patsy to follow her.

‘I am a bit anxious, Cassandra. What will happen today?’

‘Let’s start our walk and get some good, fresh air in our lungs and I’ll give you an idea of what will happen over the next few days. Patsy, you are already ahead of the program ‘cause you have been through detox; your breakfast mates are not so fortunate, so you may not see them for awhile.’

‘I feel for them; detox was horrible, not the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life, but something I never want to experience again,’ Patsy said with a pained expression on her already tense face.

Cassandra continued explaining to Patsy about what would happen while speeding up the pace and making mental notes of Patsy’s every reaction. Patsy kept up with her, almost oblivious that she was going at a very quick pace, especially for someone who had not walked any farther than to the end of her driveway and back.

‘When we get back to the center, you gonna be in a classroom where the program, it’s goals and objectives, will be explained. Then you’ll meet the multi disciplinary team that will be working with you while you’re here.’

Patsy was silent, seeming to absorb what she was being told.

‘Later, you’ll have a physical where your blood will be drawn and you will be asked to pee in a cup.’

‘Cassandra, I have not had any kind of alcohol in almost a month so I don’t think it’s necessary for them to analyze my bodily fluids,’
said Patsy somewhat huffily.

‘Now Patsy, you know that is only one thing the fluids tell us. You have abused your body for years, so we need to know how your innards are functioning in case you need medical treatment. Please put on your nurse cap, Patsy.’

A chastised Patsy, smiled and said, ’you’re right, Cassandra, I was being totally self absorbed, I know how important blood and urine analyses are in identifying potential issues.’

‘By the time we finish with your physical examination, it will be lunch, and I know you will be looking forward to that good food.’

After lunch, you will meet with a case worker who will review what we know about you and find out some things we don’t know so we can design an individualized plan just for you. Patsy, we stress authenticity here, so it is imperative that you be honest with your team as well as yourself.’

Cassandra observed that Patsy noticeably tensed up as she heard ‘authenticity’. Patsy, we don’t pass judgment here or try to change who you are; we work on getting you to identify and accept what you cannot change. Patsy, I know you are a lesbian.’

Hearing that label applied to her, Patsy audibly gasped and set her jaw so tightly that it ached. ‘You don’t know that; if Delia told you that, she's just making things up. I have been married, you know.’ Patsy’s voice was shaky and she was fighting tears as her facade was being ripped off.

‘Patsy, it’s okay. We haven’t burned anyone at the stake in at least ten years. You’re safe, but you must be honest with your professional team and yourself. What you reveal in group therapy is up to you and your level of comfort, as well as theirs, but the first step toward healing begins with honesty to yourself.’

‘Now, we are back where we started. I think we’ve walked at least a mile just now. You did very well, Patsy. I can see you are going to challenge me with this walking. Now, you go freshen up and meet me in classroom A by nine o’clock.’

Patsy walked to her room with her stomach churning and feeling like she was going to be sick. How could they possibly know about her predilection? She didn’t look like ‘those women’, she had always been careful to present herself as ladylike and poised as possible. Delia must have set her up; she was never cautious about her inclinations, and it appeared nothing had changed. How on earth had she been so successful in the Nurse Corps without getting caught? Delia Busby had a lot of explaining to do, Patsy huffed, as she applied an extra layer of mascara before heading to the classroom. She stopped abruptly before exiting her room; turned around and went to her closet where she grabbed her stilettos, put them on and swished to the door. Even with extra mascara and her stilettos, Patsy felt as though a big neon sign flashing ‘lesbian’ was following her everywhere.

In spite of her best intentions to be dismissive and cynical of the presentation, Patsy found herself totally absorbed in the information, and became enthused, by Patsy’s standards, in what lay ahead for her. How interesting, this mind, body, spirit concept.

*****

Lunch was sumptuous, chicken salad, fresh fruit, tomato basil bisque, and a petite chocolate tort. Patsy ate every bite before leaving the dining room to meet with the case worker assigned to design and manage her treatment plan.

The case worker, Louise Abernathy, was a short, slender older woman with blue eyes who greeted Patsy with a pleasant smile as she entered the room. ‘Hello Patsy, may I call you Patsy’, she asked with the softest modulation in her voice that instilled immediate comfort in Patsy.

‘By all means, please do, Ms. Abernathy. I haven’t been called by my formal name, ‘Patience’, since my father died. Patience doesn’t really fit my personality; I’m afraid I should have been named Impatience’, Patsy said with a smile.

‘And Patsy, please call me Louise. Ms. Abernathy is my mother,’ said Louise with that infectious voice.

‘Patsy, I’ve looked over your file, but it doesn’t tell me much. How about you filling in the details, put some meat on the bones in other words.’

Patsy told her of her privileged upbringing in Singapore before being captured by the Japanese and losing her Mother and sister to typhoid while in the internment camp; of reuniting with her father after repatriation; of him sending her back to England to live at a Catholic boarding school, and of her desire to become a nurse after her experience in the camps. She told her that she was estranged from her father, but managed to reconcile during his terminal illness.

Louise moved from behind her desk and sat in an armchair across from Patsy, smile, and in that trusting voice said, ‘Patsy, tell me about your childhood. Were you a happy child?’

‘Oh, yes, my sister and I had everything, we wanted for nothing.’

‘Were your parents loving and demonstrative?’

‘Yes, I always felt loved’.

‘Which parent did you most closely identify with, Patsy?’

‘What do you mean? I’m not sure I’m following you.’

‘Well, for example, which one did you want to be like when you grew up?’

With no hesitation at all, Patsy spontaneously replied, ‘my father; I idolized him. I was always being chastised for walking like him, mimicking his moves ; my mother was afraid I would become like ‘those women’ at the docks. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it displeased my mother.’

‘Once my sister and I were playing dress up; she was in a pair of Mother’s high heels and one of her necklaces; I had on a pair of father’s shoes and one of his ties. We were having such fun, trying to dance like our parents and tripping over our feet because the shoes were so big on us. When Mother saw us, she looked at me with a very disgusted expression on her face, and snapped at me to take off those ridiculous shoes and tie; she told me I was a girl and I needed to start acting like one.

‘How did that make you feel, Patsy?’

Patsy, staring off into the distance as though she was an observer in the dialog, not recognizing her own voice, said, ‘it made me feel ashamed, like I had done something terrible, like there was something wrong with me, like I was dirty. I threw off the tie and kicked my feet out of his shoes and ran to my room where I laid on the bed and cried for hours.’

‘What happened afterward?’

‘I heard mother telling my father about it when he got home that night. She told him she was beside herself with my antics, and was so afraid someone else would notice if they didn’t take some type of drastic action. She was afraid I would make them the laughing stock of Singapore, they might even have to move somewhere new where they would not be known as the family with the peculiar child.’

‘How did you feel about that?’

‘I was scared, and ashamed that I might embarrass them so much that they may give me away or something. What was wrong with me that upset mother so? I was only five years old and already a family embarrassment.’

‘Much to my relief, they didn’t give me to the gypsies, but decided to send me to ballet classes where I might learn to move with some grace. They also decided to send me to a kind of charm school for children where I might learn the social graces I had to date rejected.’

‘And, Patsy, how did that make you feel?’

‘Louise, I felt relieved that they were keeping me in the family. I decided right then and there that I would do everything to please them, to make them love me, even if inside I still wanted to be like father and marry a beautiful woman when I grew up. I didn’t understand why I felt this way, I just did. I did understand that these feelings were not normal, and I was never to display them publicly.’

Patsy raised her head and with a distant expression on her face, said, ‘Louise, I can’t believe I just told you this; I’ve never told anyone, not even Delia. I’m surprised I even remembered it; it was so long ago. I really don’t know where all of that came from.’

Louise looked a Patsy with the kindest eyes Patsy had ever seen, and softly said, ‘Patsy, if you are in agreement, I would like to be your therapist as well as your case worker. Normally, it’s one or the other, but I would like to walk this journey with you if you don’t mind’.

‘Louise, I would like that very much’, Patsy replied while fighting back tears.

‘Why the tears, Patsy?’

‘I’m not sure, I just feel like the dam has developed a crack, and my memories are about to burst out.’

‘ That is a good thing, dear, and please don’t try to seal the crack, we need to create a controlled stream of your long held emotions.’

‘Now, before our time ends today, I am going to refer you to a psychiatrist, one that I will hand pick for you. I think you might need some medication to help with your anxiety and depression. Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medicine. I also want to refer you to a trauma specialist to help with your PTSD because of your experiences in the internment camps. Do these things sound like something you would be amenable to’, asked Louise with that comforting smile.

‘Oh yes, yes it does, but I don’t know what PTSD is. Thank you, Louise’, Patsy said while biting her bottom lip and fighting back tears.

‘PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and basically refers to those memories that come back to haunt us, for example, the horrors of the internment camp that you either experienced or observed that you relive from time to time. That’s all the time we have for today, Patsy. Oh, a couple of other things for you to consider. We offer yoga here, and I recommend you give it a try; it will help you clear your mind and strengthen your body too. We also offer individualized fitness programs, and I think you would benefit from a regular workout routine in addition to the walking you and Cassandra are doing.’

‘Yes, I would like that,’ said Patsy with a hint of optimism in her voice.

‘Good, I’ll refer you and someone will be in touch shortly. Shall we meet again on Wednesday at this same time? That’s all for now; take good care of yourself, Patsy’.

‘Patsy rose from her chair and said to Louise, ‘see you Wednesday.’

She didn’t remember walking to her room, and was barely conscious of sitting in the overstuffed chair gazing at the water tower in the distance. How had Louise drawn those memories out of her? She had forgotten all about them. Delia didn't even know about them. Had she been born a queer, or that new term which is almost as offensive to the ears as ‘queer’, ‘lesbian’. She was born damaged. She wished Delia was here to hold her and make sense of this revelation. She also has a strong need to be in the presence of Sister Julienne. But, what she really wanted now was a scotch on the rocks and a cigarette.

*****

Delia’s days began very early and ended after the sun sat. She was up by five o’clock, out the door by half past five and running her standard route through the base and out across the meadow. She always donned her long pants and baggy shirt, until she got to the meadow that is, where she dodged behind a tree in a shallow valley and peeled down to her running shorts and tank top. She loved the freedom and the invigorating feeling of the cool morning air on her bare legs and arms. She ran hard and fast, filling her lungs with fresh air until she felt alive and ready for the day’s challenges before reluctantly returning to her pile of clothes. She quickly put them on and trotted back to the base. She was yet to have company on her morning run, which was actually a relief as she had the time to herself to think about what lay ahead, and to think about Patsy and what she may be experiencing. She would find out in two more days just how Patsy was responding to rehab.

After her morning run and shower, she dressed and would visit the officers’ mess for breakfast and camaraderie before heading to one of the joint or allied units where she would spend time observing patient care, hygiene practices, and morale before reviewing training records and performance results. She made notes of the units’ successes as well as deficiencies she would need to improve.

On Thursday afternoon, she met with the base commander. Brigadier General Henry Thompson was a stocky man with a ruddy complexion and graying flat top. He also had kind eyes and a jovial wit about him. Delia liked him immediately and it seemed that the respect was mutual. He told her he had heard great things about her, especially her bravery in the war zone and was glad to finally meet the legend herself. Delia smiled shyly while turning red from ear to ear..

General Thompson told her she was absolutely the right person to lead this hodge podge organization at this moment in time, and he had great expectations that she would mould this tower of babel into a functioning medical unit capable of providing medical care from the battlefield to the base hospital and all points in between. Delia thanked him for his vote of confidence and told him she would work tirelessly to make this organization the pride of the UK.

General Thompson then asked her how she and Colonel Houston were getting along. Delia took on a somber tone, paused to choose her words carefully before saying she had gotten off on the wrong foot with Colonel Houston due to some errors in judgment on her part, but was diligently working to establish a better rapport with her. General Thompson asked what on earth she had done, and when she related the jogging outfit mistake and the uniform oversights, he bellowed a deep laugh, and just shook his head in disbelief, then starred pensively out of the window for several seconds before turning toward Delia, and with pursed lips told her of Colonel Houston's background.

She had served her country as a Royal Army nurse after WWII during the rebuilding of Europe, and England specifically, but had reverted to inactive status after a few years. She did maintain her commission in the QARANC while living a privileged life in high society. She married a chap who has some relationship to nobility, so when she determined she needed additional active duty time to accumulate enough years to retire, she contacted friends in high places for assistance. Since there was an opening here, she was placed in the joint and allied command as the chief principal matron. His experience with these political assignments is that they usually emphasize the ‘house keeping’ aspects of command, but stay out of the way of operational matters. Colonel Houston seems to be following suit, placing her energies on superficial things that have little to nothing to do with the actual mission. He and Delia would just have to tolerate her eccentricities: they would have to discreetly work around Colonel Houston, and while he hated to put her in the middle, he needed her leadership to get this amalgamation of units mission ready. Delia told him she hated to go behind Colonel Houston’s back, but with his support, would somehow keep unit readiness and Colonel Houston’s tasks balanced. Before leaving, she told him that she had been tasked to host the big Christmas party and hoped her base housing would be ready in time for the party. He assured her it would be.

Before dismissing Delia, General Thompson told her of a training deployment being planned for shortly after the first of the year, and to add it to her list.

Delia felt totally overwhelmed as she walked across the base back to her office. How was she going to keep all of these balls in the air while overseeing Patsy’s rehabilitation too. She remembered the riddle Nurse Crane used to ask her when she was overwhelmed by some aspect of her midwifery training, ‘Nurse Busby, do you know how eat an elephant?’, the senior nurse would ask in her falsetto voice while looking down her nose.

‘No, I’m afraid I’ve never tried to ingest such a creature. How does one eat an elephant, Nurse Crane?’

‘Why, one bite at a time, Nurse Busby, one bite at a time.’

Chapter Text

Patsy scolded herself for letting herself even think about drinking and smoking. She was determined to find a coping method that would not destroy her, but what ? She had absolutely no interest in painting or hand crafts; she couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book, her mind was too restless to maintain focus. She decided she would go outside and walk as fast as she could for as long as she could. It was mid afternoon, she would be back before dinner, and then she and Cassandra would walk again. She would just walk until she was past the point of exhaustion, and sleep became her only tonic. She changed into a jogging suit, laced up her trainers, notified the staff nurse where she would be, and headed out the door and onto the path.

She walked at a brisk pace while her mind raced from thought to thought. Why did everyone think she was a….she choked on THAT word, ‘lesbian’. She had loved only one woman, had been intimate only with that woman. This wasn’t the root of her problems, why wasn’t anyone talking about her experiences in the camps; those were what caused her nightmares, not her proclivities.

Patsy was walking very fast and swinging her arms with such force that she appeared for all the world like she was heading to a fight. She was angry at being so exposed; the audacity of these people, and to think she was paying a fortune to be so humiliated.

She was in mid step when the light came on, the penny dropped, and she realized that at no time during her public undressing did anyone shame her, or tell her that she could be converted to normal through their therapeutic ways. She had not been condemned for her disease.

She needed to relax a little and see where this journey would take her, but she had hidden her true self for long that she still cringed at being acknowledged as ‘that way.’ She was not past her Mother’s disappointment and fears of what Patsy’s predilection would do to their standing if she were ever exposed. She was almost back to the building before she realized it, so slowed her walk down to cool off, literally and figuratively, before going to her room.

‘Well’, said Casandra as she joined Patsy at the dinner table, ‘looks like you had a very good walk this afternoon; I guess you won’t want to walk with me after dinner considering how flushed you face still is.’

‘I certainly intend to walk again after dinner, Cassandra. It’s part of my exercise regime; I may become a marathoner by the time I leave here. Besides, the food is so good, I’ll be big as a house if I don’t exercise.’

‘That it good, Patsy, but you must remember to stretch tonight when we get back, otherwise you will get shin splints and muscle knots. Maybe you would enjoy the hot tub before going to bed.’

‘That’s a splendid idea, Cassandra. What is our menu tonight, I worked up an appetite.’

*****

Patsy was waiting for Cassandra in the lobby after their dinner, ready to walk again toward her goal of complete physical exhaustion.

‘Patsy, you’re going to make an old woman of me with all this exercise, not that it isn’t good for us, but in moderation.’

‘Oh, Cassandra, we’re going to be is such good shape, we’ll be the envy of the center,’ Patsy said flippantly as she stretched her long legs against the lamp post before starting to walk.

‘Cassandra, why did you assume I’m one of those…..those kind of women? Delia must have said something when she made arrangements for me to come here; otherwise, there is no way you would have figured it out. Level with me, what did Delia say?’, Patsy asked as she started down the path.

‘Delia never consciously said anything about you.’ Cassandra paused choosing her words carefully before continuing, ‘you know Delia is a heroine, don’t you Patsy?’

‘No, I know very little about her Army career; she’s been too busy taking control of my life, getting me into the looney bin to tell me anything about herself. So, what’s Miss Know-It-All done to be a heroine? Rescue puppies from a burning building?’, Patsy said sarcastically.

‘Patsy, she almost lost her life rescuing an injured soldier from the battlefield in Vietnam. She was on the medical evacuation helicopter that arrived on site where an armored vehicle was on fire after being hit by an enemy rocket. No one would go toward the burning tank to get the last soldier out because they feared it would explode. Delia ran toward it anyway as it burned; she somehow dragged that boy out of that tank, threw him over her shoulders and was running back to the helicopter when the tank exploded, and a piece of shrapnel ricocheted off her helmet and grazed her forehead. She kept running until she got both of them on the helicopter before she blacked out.

‘They were flown to the forward field hospital, but they were both so badly injured that they had to be evacuated to the medical center in Saigon, which is where I met her. I was the neuro trauma nurse where she was hospitalized. She was unconscious for weeks, but she constantly called for someone named ‘Patsy’. Over and over, ‘Pats, I’m sorry, Patsy, come back, and on and on.’ We had to sedate her to keep her calm.’

Patsy was mortified and ashamed by her flippant comments, but she kept a straight face while deliberately not looking at Cassandra.

‘They were going to discharge her because they thought she would never wake up, but one morning I went in to check on her and her eyes were wide open, looking around, she demanded to know who I was and where she was.’

‘Oh my God,’ Patsy exclaimed. ‘Please tell me she didn’t have amnesia again. Oh no, how many head injuries can one person sustain before they are permanently damaged?’, cried Patsy while picking up her pace.

‘No, she knew her name, all about her military service, and where she was before the accident. When I told her she had saved a boy’s life, she started to recall what had happened, but all she wanted to do was go check on him. She was so weak she couldn’t even walk by herself. I had to get a wheelchair and roll her to see him, nothing else would do. She motivated him to want to live and heal.’

‘She was determined she wasn't going to be medically discharged, and she threw herself into rehabilitation like an obsessed woman until she was strong enough to go back to her unit. She was cleared mentally, emotionally, and physically by all levels of medical boards. If she had been a man, she would have been awarded the highest medals for bravery from the Royal Army and the American Army, but seeing as how she was a woman, they gave her lower status medals, but had to give her the ‘V’ device for valor to wear on her medals.’

‘Once I asked her who Patsy was, and she said she didn’t know anyone named Patsy. I told her that was very strange because she called for her all the time while she was unconscious. She finally said it must have been one of her dogs from childhood. She never mentioned it again in all the years I’ve known her until she showed up here with you.’

‘So, Patsy, you see when I say Delia never consciously mentioned you, I’m telling the truth. And Patsy, please slow down, I don’t think I can walk this fast going up the last hill.’

Patsy was silent as she slowed her pace, but her mind was churning like the rapids as she thought to herself, ‘Delia Busby, you just think you have gotten over me, but I have convincing evidence that you haven't, you never did; maybe you belong in the looney bin with me dredging up your suppressed memories too.’

‘Casandra, this has been a very enlightening walk; thank you for your candor; rest assured I won’t reveal our conversation to Delia. I do think I will go to the hot tub before bedtime.’

‘Yes, very good’, said a winded Cassandra, ‘rest well, see you at breakfast, Patsy.’

So enamored of Cassandra’s revelations about Delia’s subconscious utterings that it would be several hours before the magnitude of Delia’s heroism and the severity of her injuries hit Patsy. But when it did hit, it was like a punch to the gut as Patsy realized how close she came to losing her love for the second time.

Chapter Text

Delia woke up Friday morning to pouring rain and fog. She was relieved she could stay in bed longer, so she snuggled back under the covers for a few more winks. Today was the day she would get her first report on Patsy’s adjustment and progress at the rehab center. Her heavy workload had not permitted her much time to dwell on Patsy, but she was satisfied that she was in safe and competent hands.

Their last time together flashed through her mind; Patsy had suffered the humiliation of the body check with minimal outrage and put it behind her rather quickly, which was typical of Patsy, she didn’t hold on to grudges, she never had. That unintended parting kiss played through her mind, causing a mild lightening bolt to surge through her midsection ending in her groin area, which she dismissed as needing to pee; after all, that kiss was no more than a mutual accident, unintended, meaning nothing.

Patsy was her charge, she couldn’t let her emotions cloud her judgement and responsibility to her. Her goal was to get Patsy healthy so that she could develop positive coping skills when her demons came calling. Her heart did ache for Patsy, she really had no one, no blood relative to care about her. To Delia’s knowledge, Patsy didn’t have many, if any, friends, and certainly no colleagues. She had never sought out other women of her ‘persuasion’, so she had no one to build a kinship with, no one with which to share emotions. That was why she needed positive coping skills and a clear mind to enable her to develop a plan for remedying her situation.

Hell, she could even get involved in a church where she could establish friendships and join circle groups. That idea seemed so preposterous that Delia laughed out loud. Patsy was a non believer: she frequently lamented the absence of a loving God when she was in the internment camp; where was the loving God when her mother and sister died of typhoid, or when her father was cursed with a neurological disease that made the last years of his life a living hell; he couldn’t even be allowed to die with a modicum of dignity. Whatever Patsy did to end her isolation, she would not do it in a church, of that Delia was sure. The perplexing part about Patsy’s relationship with church was that she was always so comfortable in the convent, but then, so were they all. It was more of a reflection on the Nonnatuns’ basic creed, and specifically of Sister Julienne’s leadership, than anything else.

Even when they were in nursing school, Patsy was basically a loner, she confided in no one other than Delia. Of course, once she moved to Nonnatus House, she and Trixie had some things in common, like clothes and makeup, and alcohol, but their relationship was basically superficial, Patsy couldn’t have an honest conversation with Trixie about her personal life and what was in her heart, so it was easy to see how she became so isolated after Delia left her.

Enough nostalgia for now, Delia thought to herself as she crawled out of bed and completed her morning routine, minus her daily run.

She spent most of the morning in the warehouse along with her subordinate commanders from joint and allied units inspecting the mobile surgical hospital. It was a hot and dirty place that required them to crawl under and over equipment and they had agreed to wear their respective service utility uniforms. The casual attire gave her subordinates a sense of freedom and led to a relaxed atmosphere where they could subtly let their guards down and attempt to ‘smoke each other out’. The lesbians knew instantly who their ‘sisters’ were, while the heterosexuals were oblivious to the nuances of the carefully chosen words and phrases. Delia has already concluded that three of her subordinate commanders were of like persuasion, the Australian, the Royal Navy nurse, and the American. She had taken an instant liking to the Australian and the Navy nurse, and even the American, although she was a bit too forward for Delia’s comfort zone. Regardless, these women would form the band of sisters who would become each other’s support system, enabling them to survive the isolation of military service; with each other, there was no need to pretend to be anything other than who they were. All of them had come too far to jeopardize their careers by being too obvious, so the necessity for discretion went without saying.

*****
Following a short lunch break, Delia met with the hiring panel she had assembled to select the contract doctor for the base. In addition to herself, the singular woman doctor and the only West Indies male doctor on base had agreed to be on her panel. The other two members were the Australian and the Royal Navy nurses. They drew up interview questions, evaluation criteria, and established the timeframe in which to complete the hiring process. Delia set a deadline of October 31st for completion of this hiring process.

As the meeting was breaking up around quarter past two o’clock, the Australian sidled up to Delia and discretely told her the ‘sisters’ were going out for drinks after work and invited her to come along. She needed companionship and socialisation, so accepted her invitation without a moment’s hesitation.

She barely had time to visit the ladies’ room and return to her office when her clerk knocked to tell her Colonel Houston wanted her to come to her office as soon as she could. Delia advised the clerk to tell Colonel Houston that she was just going into a meeting, but would come to her office as soon as it was over. It wasn’t exactly a lie; she was expecting an important telephonic meeting and she was not going to miss it just to appease the Colonel, but just as importantly, she need a few moments to clear her mind of the day’s activities and refocus her energies on Patsy.

At three o’clock sharp, Delia heard the phone ring and the clerk transferred the call to her.

‘Hello, Delia, this is Mark Evans, I’m so sorry I was out of town at a conference when you arrived with Miss Mount, but we’ll just have to make time to catch up soon.’

‘I would like that very much, Mark; it’s been a long time and I really want to hear about your life since you left the Army.’

‘Great, we’ll plan for that. Now, let me introduce the rest of the people on this call, Louise Abernathy is Patsy’s therapist, Cassandra Adams, who I believe you know, is her nurse therapist, Hazel Phillips is her yoga instructor, Jerry Walker is the fitness trainer, Harrison Wallace is the PTSD group therapy leader, and Tracy Miller is the activities director. Before we get down to specifics, let me add that all of these people are credentialed in their respective specialities, and bring a wealth of experience to our facility.’

‘It’s the consensus of the group,’ Mark began, ‘that Patsy is adjusting very well to our structured environment. Louise and Cassandra have garnered Patsy’s trust, and are making inroads into her emotions. It goes without saying that Patsy is enjoying food. And, I understand her sleep is restful and undisturbed. Other clients report that she is friendly and helpful and a good conversationalist.’ In many ways, she is the perfect guest. ‘Our biggest concern is her lack of participation in group therapy. I’ll let Harrison go into detail.’

‘Thank you, Mark. Patsy comes to sessions, she listens as others talk, asks questions, restates their issues, but offers nothing of herself and what may have contributed to her self abuse. She is the master of deflection, and I have not been successful in breaking through her defence mechanisms. Any insight you may offer as to how I might break down those defences would be appreciated.’

Delia let out an audible sigh of relief and said, ‘Well, overall, I am pleased with your report. I was concerned that Patsy would not take this opportunity seriously and choose to leave rather than come to terms with her issues. So she is making progress, and for that I am thankful. She has always held her cards close. I probably know her as well as anyone, and there is so much she has never shared with me. I know her time in the internment camps was very traumatic and something she avoids talking about.

‘Let me give you an example of an incident that sparked such an extreme reaction from Patsy while we were student nurses. Once we had gone to the cafeteria for lunch, and Patsy was very tired because she had worked a double shift, so I volunteered to get her a lunch while she sat down to rest her legs. The menu for the day was curry with rice, so I piled two plates high with rice and curry sauce, very pleased with myself, but when I sat the plate in front of Patsy, she tensed up and said she detested rice. I flippantly remarked that I was sorry, I didn’t know the privileged didn't eat rice, but that they were out of foie gras today.

‘It was like a switch flipped, she started crying and said ‘you have no idea,’ and got up suddenly and starting running away. I was so shocked that I could not react at first; I just sat staring at the plates of food, baffled by what had just transpired. By the time I got my wits about me and got upstairs to her hall, she had locked herself in her room and would not let me in. It was a week before I was able to confront her and demand to know what had set her off. That is when she told me about her experience in the camps.’

‘If you can find something that hits a nerve with her, she may open up, but I fear what it may do to her emotionally. I have instructed your dining room staff that she is never to have rice, so you might want to use her rice revulsion as an inroad to her issues. Please be gentle with her. When may I visit her?’

This is Mark again, ‘We would prefer it if you would wait at least two more weeks to give us time to work with her and continue to build her trust. Why don’t you come Sunday afternoon two weeks hence and stay for dinner. We would prefer she not leave the center grounds for awhile, but you’re welcome to enjoy all of our facilities when you do visit.’

‘Hazel and Jerry are pleased with her participation in yoga and her individualized fitness program; she seems to be using these as positive coping methods. We hope these become habits for her.’

‘Delia, this is Cassandra, ‘she’s killing me with all the walking; we are walking after every meal, I mean one, two miles at a time, and this is the first week. She seems to feel freer to talk about sensitive matters when we are out in the open. It’s very good for her, mind and body, and also mine; I’ve just never had a patient to be so determined.’

Delia smiled when she heard this while also feeling a tiny squeeze of her heart. No, her eyes weren’t tearing up, it was just a delayed reaction to all the warehouse dust from the morning.

‘This is Louise Abernathy. Patsy and I are exploring her early life prior to the camps, and she has revealed some experiences that have shaped her worldview as an adult. We have a long way to go, but I have great confidence in Patsy’s ability to understand how she became who she is, and also accept who she is.’

‘This is Tracy, the activities director. Patsy hasn’t shown much interest in our arts and crafts program as a positive outlet for her emotions. I am hoping she will find an activity that really interests her, but thus far, she hasn’t shown much in what we offer. Of course, it is still week one, so everything is still new to her.’ To Delia, this woman sounded just like a kindergarten teacher; was it any wonder that Patsy was so disinterested.

‘Well’, Delia said, trying to hold back her dislike for the activity director, ‘she never learned to sew or do needle work at home because that just wasn’t an expectation of someone of her social status, and even though we did lots of crafts at the convent, she just never became interested in anything. You’ll just have to give her time to find something that really motivates her. Don’t give up on her, but don’t pressure her into doing something just to please you either.’ Delia hoped her irritation wasn’t apparent to the people on the other end of the line.

‘Delia, this is Mark. I’ll give you a call next week and we’ll plan to have lunch soon. I’m anxious to catch up on your activities since last we met.’

‘That sounds wonderful, Mark. I am so happy and relieved to know that Patsy is responding positively to, as she would say, ‘ incarceration’. She, more than anyone I know, deserves to be whole again. I look forward to our next conference call, but now I have been summoned up the street to meet with my boss, so am signing off. Thanks for the update.’

*****
‘Crap, It’s half past four o’clock’, Delia uttered as she grabbed her cap and headed up the street to meet with Colonel Houston, but at least she had received a very positive report on Patsy’s adjustment, so she could set her mind at ease on that issue.

Colonel Houston’s clerk ushered her into the Colonel’s office. Delia, winded from rushing up the hill, hurried in and rendered a sharp salute, which was returned without eye contact. ‘Colonel Busby, I trust you were immersed in Army business in your extremely long meeting.’

Through clenched teeth, Delia said, ‘I have been immersed in Army business each day I have been here; my day starts at seven o’clock and ends about twelve hours later. But to your question, no I was not conducting Army business in my meeting. To be clear, I was on a conference call regarding a personal matter I am not privy to discuss with you, but which is of highest priority to me, and I simply cannot take care of it at eight o’clock in the evening. But, I assume this is not why you summoned me here.’

‘Please watch your mouth, Colonel Busby, you are bordering on impertence. I simply wanted to know the status of the hiring panel for the contract doctors, that is all.’

‘I have assembled a panel of senior medical professionals to assist in developing interview questions, evaluation criteria, and the selection process itself. I have instructed them that the selection process must be completed before the end of October.’

‘Very good. Please keep me apprised of your progress. An acquaintance of the family is most interested in applying for one of the contract positions, and I trust you will give due consideration. I won’t reveal who it is until you have the applications in hand.’

‘Now, Colonel Busby, I trust there is a reason you are cavorting around base in your utility uniform?’

Delia was so stunned by the question that it took her a moment to process it. ‘Yes, Colonel Houston, there most definitely is. I have been inspecting the MASH equipment today, which requires me to climb on and under big equipment in a hot and dirty warehouse; I prefer not to display my knickers by doing this physical work in a skirt and heels,’ Delia remarked while barely holding back her contempt.

‘That will be all, Colonel Busby.’

‘Enjoy your weekend, ma’am,’ a sullen Delia said as she saluted and left the office without eye contact.

*****

Delia, dressed in casual slacks and attractive sleeveless, collared blouse, hurried through the pub door, trying to quickly adjust her eyes to the dark interior and find her party. She saw the ‘sisters’ waving wildly from a table in the back, so she went directly toward them without first stopping at the bar. ‘Name your poison, Colonel’, said Maureen, the Australian, ‘first round on me.’

‘Oh, I think a gin and tonic is called for; my taste buds have been craving one all day. Do they have snacks here? My stomach is so empty, just smelling the gin may make me drunk.’

‘I’ll get some food, I really don’t want to carry my boss out of here, at least not this early,’ Maureen laughed as she walked to the bar.

‘How was the meeting with the dinosaur,’ asked Sue, the American.

‘Well, I’ll just say, my otherwise sunny day became overcast and blustry,’ Delia replied. ‘We seem to live in parallel universes; she is obsessed with public perception of women; she jumped me about why I was ‘cavorting’ across base in my utility uniform, for Christ’s sake. I don’t think she appreciated me telling her I preferred not showing my knickers while climbing over and under dirty equipment,’ smirked Delia as she recalled the look on Colonel Houston’s face.

Drinks and snacks arrived and all conversation ceased as the alcohol and food eased the emotional and physical needs of its consumers. Delia could feel the alcohol coursing through her veins creating a feeling of euphoria, God, she really needed this evening; it had been so long since she had let her hair down and thought of anything other than work, and, of course, Patsy. She needed friends, even if they were her subordinates, she would just have to set boundaries, afterall, they were all professionals.

After several more drinks, Sue asked, ‘Colonel, how’s your love life? You got someone to warm your feet at night?’ Maureen and Robin, the Royal Navy nurse, looked as though they could crawl under the table at Sue's forwardness.

‘No, no I don’t, not even a pet; you know if the QARANC wanted me to have a mate, it would have issued me one,’ Delia replied with a somewhat startled reaction to the blunt question, and with a bit of slur to her words.

‘Yeah, that’s the standard reply we all use,’ but what you’re saying is that you’re on the market, Colonel.’

Robin emitted an audible gasp at this question.

Delia, seemingly nonplussed replied, ‘well, you know Sue, most people put us into three categories---we’re either whores, lesbians, or we stay home and play with ourselves; they rarely put us in category four where most of us belong; works her arse off, goes home late and collapses into bed, too tired even to engage in category three. But to your question, I’m not on the market, I truly am dedicated to my career, and don’t miss not having someone to syphon off my attention from my career.’

‘Jeez, you sound like you just escaped from the convent.’

‘As a matter of fact, I did live in a convent for awhile when I was pursuing my midwifery certification.’

‘What?’, the American said as a look of shock crossed her face, ‘in a damned convent? Did you take a permanent vow of chastity, or something?’

‘ I said I lived there, I said nothing about being chaste’, Delia demurred.

‘So, you’re not a, a prude, so to speak.’

‘My, aren’t we brazen tonight’, remarked Delia, as Maureen killed off her fresh drink in one gulp and then dragged Robin to the bar. ‘So, continued Delia, 'let’s just put this issue to rest; yes, I have had one love, the love of my life, to whom I was totally committed; but as our world changed, ….they changed and we grew apart. Their needs changed and I could no longer satisfy them, so I left one day and never looked back.’

‘You said one love, but use plural pronouns when speaking of that person. That really is a dead give away, Colonel. Did ‘they’ live in the convent too, or did you sneak ‘them’ in when no one was looking’, quirried Sue with the look of satisfaction on her face, knowing she had struck a sensitive nerve.

‘It was a long time ago; I’m over it, and I suggest you be the same’, Delia commented with a bit of discomfort in her voice. Part of her wanted to spill her guts, to vent her anguish, to let someone share her pain, but she couldn’t, at least not with this pushy American nurse. Delia thought that if that officer wasn’t so damned competent, she would ask for her to be replaced, but she needed her abilities to make this tower of babel function, so she would just keep her at arm’s length, never giving her the satisfaction of prying out information she was not ready to share.

‘Colonel, you’re not over it.’

‘Well, you just make sure you have your facts straight when you brief your partners in crime on my loveless life. Now, I really must get back to my room,’ Delia winked as she stood up and excused herself.

‘Well, enjoy category three when you get there,’ she heard as she walked toward the door.

As she got into her car and was buckling up, she said to herself, ‘ I’ll just keep them guessing; I’ll make sure they see me having lunch with Mark next week; that’ll keep them off balance.’

*****

Patsy had such a relaxing and enjoyable weekend. After Saturday morning classes on addiction and the brain, she had gone to the spa where she had her nails done and her hair styled. The hairdresser suggested that it was perhaps time to let go of the bright red hair and go toward a more natural hue, assuming Patsy could remember what that was. The stylist suggested shortening her hair to get rid of as much red as possible and tinting the rest with a light brown or dark blonde until her roots grew out enough to determine what color they now were. Patsy agreed to this change; she had revealed so much of herself in therapy there was no sense in trying to hide behind hair dye and mascara. She would never give up ‘haute couture’, at least her definition of it, nor makeup all together. She enjoyed being, as Delia would say, ‘a girly girl’; rather she would use them to accent her features.

Her spa indulgence was followed by a trip to the onsite boutique where she purchased several pairs of stylish slacks and complementing tops, all one size larger. She still would be classified as slender, even with the added weight. Her fitness routine was beginning to show results, and her once flaccid body was beginning to develop muscle tone again.

On Sunday, following a grueling fitness session and yoga class in the morning, she treated herself to an hour long full body massage. This was an indulgence she needed to calm her mind and reduce the tension that had increased since her session with Louise. So, all in all, she was relaxed and ready for the challenges that the coming week would bring.

On Monday following breakfast and her morning walk with Cassandra, she headed to group therapy, an activity which she felt was wasted on her, but as long as she could be of help to the other participants, then maybe someone was benefiting from her attendance. She wasn’t troubled by a cheating spouse like Mary Beth, or feelings of inadequacy due to a lack of education to match his business success as was George Westbrook. Her brokenness was caused by something altogether different and which only Louise and Cassandra would ever be privy to. As long as she could redirect attention from herself onto the others, she would be just fine.

As soon as she entered the room, she noticed a new face which, she found out, belonged to the group leader, Edwin, he called himself. He had everyone introduce themselves and give a brief synopsis of why they were at the center. Patsy gave her boilerplate response by saying she had a problem with alcohol and hoped to break the cycle of abuse by developing positive coping skills.

Edwin gave her a forced smile, and then said, ‘ Miss Mount, I hear you don’t eat the rice we serve here. I suppose someone from your privileged background never found such a humble food on your dining table; you were probably told it was peasant food, something for the unwashed masses, not something the upper class would ever consume.’ Everyone in the room gasped and held their breaths; no one could believe this unprovoked attack on Patsy. For her part, Patsy sat stunned in disbelief, but as she stared into the distance, her neck began to turn red, her jaws tensed, and her hands clenched the arms of her chair with such strength that the upholstery had deep indentations. She suddenly catapulted herself out of the chair and ran to the double doors, which she hit with such force that their opening could be heard throughout the hallway. No one moved or said anything, still in disbelief by what had just happened to one of their own.

Before anyone could regain their bearing, the doors flung open again with the same force, and a fierce Patsy Mount stormed into the room, got in Edwin’s face and said through clenched teeth, ‘you have no idea, Edwin. But let me tell you why I don’t like rice. Yes, we were privileged, but of course we had rice on our dinner table, we lived in Asia for god’s sake where rice was the staple. We ate lots of it until we were captured by the Japanese and taken to an internment camp where we were lucky if we got rice once a day. Dirty, insect infested rice, cooked in filthy water, you wouldn’t feed it to hogs, but it’s all we got, a cup a day for three people. Yes, we ate it with the insects still in it, that’s the only protein we got. That was my diet for three years, Edwin.’

‘It isn’t the rice that I dislike, it’s the memories that it brings forth. We lived in squalid, over crowded conditions. I watched my mother and sister die from typhoid because of the filthy conditions and contaminated water, where the captors withheld medicines that could have saved them, but were too damned evil to treat them. I saw my mother knocked to the ground and kicked mercilessley because she dared ask for more food for her children. ‘

‘When my father and I were repatriated after three years in captivity, I was almost as tall as I am now and skin and bones. My father didn’t recognize me. Edwin, I was infested with intestinal parasites, yes, posh Patsy had intestinal worms. Have you ever had worms, Edwin? Do you know what it’s like to have most of the rancid food you are lucky enough to get to be consumed by the worms in your body? Do you know what it feels like when they start to die from the poison the doctors give you? It hurts like hell, the body bends double with cramps, they don’t die easily, and they try to escape through any opening available including your mouth, Edwin. My father was also infested with them, so we had to watch each other writhe in agony as our bodies expelled them.’

‘Would you eat rice Edwin, had you been through what I just described? I’m sorry, but my distaste for rice has nothing to do with my privileged background. I wish I could enjoy rice, I wish I never had to remember why I detest it so.’

At some point Louise and Cassandra had entered the room, and as Patsy collapsed into chair in complete exhaustion, they were at her side. ‘I’ll get a wheelchair so we can take you back to your room, dear,’ said Louise in that most comforting voice. Patsy was so spent that all she could do was shake her head. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered, ‘I had to defend myself, I’m sorry for disrupting the group. Please accept my apologies, everyone, except you, Edwin, you can burn in hell.’

Edwin stood with his head bowed as Patsy was wheeled from the room. After she was out of earshot, he said to the others, ‘I had to do something to get Patsy to open up; we knew she suffered extreme trauma that causes her so much agony, even today, but she has never confronted those demons, which she must do if she is to heal from that awful experience. When she returns to the next session, be understanding and empathetic, but try to get her to share more of her internment experiences, and do try to offer coping ideas, just like she has done for you. Your regular leader will be back for next session, I was just brought in to facilitate this.’

George piped up, ‘My brother was captured by the Japs too. He never talked about what they did to him, but once he was ina store and he suddenly attacked an asian looking man; he had this far away look in his eye and was yelling, ‘you’ll never hurt me again’ as he pounded him to the floor. Took three of us to pull him off. He was taken to the insane asylum where he committed suicide one day. I never woulda thought our Patsy was a POW. She’s one tough woman.’

*****

‘Patsy, do you feel up to talking about your experiences in the camps, or would you rather rest for awhile,’ asked Louise. once they got her to her room.

‘Why did he attack me? I have never seen him before; I cannot help the status I was born into, but I’ve never lorded it over anyone else. I worked in the poorest section of London by choice, and I would still be there today if I hadn’t made some poor life choices. I am not privileged; I’m just a pathetic little rich girl,’ cried Patsy.

‘Patsy, you are a remarkable human being, not many people would be able to withstand what you have and be as accomplished as you are, at least were before your ‘poor life choices,’ to use your description,’ Louise said. ‘Don’t be hesitant to open yourself up to your friends in group sessions; they can offer much insight into your demons, just like you’ve been doing for them. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Patsy, and opening yourself to vulnerability is very necessary for growth.’

‘I believe I would like to rest until lunch time, if that’s okay. May I have a mild tranquilizer, Louise?’

‘Of course you can, and Cassandra will sit with you if your would like.’

‘Yes, I would like that very much.’

Chapter Text

A soft tap, tap, tap coming from somewhere to her right woke Patsy from a deep sleep. The room was dark, so dark it was impossible to know if it were evening darkness or morning darkness, whichever it was, it was disorienting, and unwelcome. She opened her eyes a slight crack, just enough to make out the images of a dresser and chair in the distance; they looked familiar, she had seen them somewhere before, in another lifetime perhaps, but before she could speculate further on where she was, she heard a voice coming from the same place as the tapping, ‘Patsy, you’ve been asleep for quite a while, it’s getting close to dinner time and I know you’ll be hungry since you missed lunch. May I turn on your lamp?’ It was such a familiar voice bringing her back into reality, ‘Cassandra, of course, please do. What time is it, and how long have I been asleep,’ asked a groggy, gravelly voiced Patsy.

‘It’s half past five in the evening, and you’ve been asleep for over seven hours.’

‘I’ve slept the day away?’ exclaimed Patsy. ‘Why, did I become unwell?’, asked patsy as she sat up on one elbow, squinting from the obtrusive light in her eyes.

‘You had a very disturbing encounter this morning in group therapy and you were so distressed that Louise, uh, Dr. Abernathy, and I brought you back to you room and gave you a mild sedative to help you calm down.’

Patsy’s confused expression changed as the recognition of her morning sabotage came into her consciousness, ‘oh yes, I remember that horrible man taunting me without provocation. He resurrected so many bad memories and caused me to say things I never wanted mere acquaintances to know about me.’ Patsy’s facial muscles tensed and she could feel the anger in her neck and cheeks as she continued recollecting the morning’s trauma, ‘ I felt like my dignity had been ripped off and my secrets violated. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to rid those experiences from my memory, and now they are back again, front and center. My nightmares had begun to subside, becoming more infrequent and less intense, and now I’ll be living in fear of reliving that horrible time again everytime I close my eyes.’

‘I’ve taken great pains to mitigate those memories, things like avoiding rice, and never traveling in the orient ever again. Even when we were touring the world, I absolutely refused to go to southeast Asia, although Delia wanted desperately to see it. Being in Hong Kong with my father was torture; it brought back so many gastly memories of the camps; the smells, the crowds of humanity, the humidity, the heat, the noise, the filth; I honestly do not know why he returned there after the repatriation; how he was able to bear the place day in and day out is beyond me; I suppose he was able to lose himself in his business, or maybe he did it to punish himself for what happened to his family. Regardless, that’s one secret he took to his grave.’

‘Patsy, sometimes we have to relive those bad memories in a safe setting so that we can unburden our souls of them for good. You should try to be open with your therapy mates; trust them to understand and help you cope with them. Maybe they need to hear what you just told me, put your life into perspective for them; they see you as just a rich woman with a drinking problem, let them see what a complex individual you are and how strong your experiences have made you. We practically had a riot in there after you left, they were so angry with Edwin for upsetting you.’

‘Cassandra, am I hearing correctly that this may have been a staged intervention? I believe that is the correct terminology,’ Patsy exclaimed in disbelief. ‘I am smelling a rat, and believe me, I DO know what a rat smells like.’

‘I know you will find people eager to see you at dinner. Now, pull yourself together and come on to the dining room. It’s beef Wellington tonight,’ said a tight lipped Cassandra as she backed out of the door, closing it as she went.

Mary Beth smiled and gave Patsy a warm hug as she approached the dining table, while George, with a big smile, rose and held Patsy’s chair as she sat down for dinner. ‘Thank you so much’, Patsy whispered fight back tears; ‘it so good to see you.’ The conversation was at first stilted and uncomfortable, but became very animated and congenial as they indulged their appetites with beef Wellington and potatoes au gratin. Food was indeed the balm she needed tonight.

*****

Patsy knocked on Louise’s door promptly at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning as scheduled. ‘Come in,’ she heard Louise say in that comforting voice of hers. ‘How have you been, Patsy, since our last session? Please have a seat in your usual chair and I’ll join you over there with some tea for the both of us, if you would like.’

‘Yes, I would like a cup of tea very much. Regarding how I’ve been, I’ve been troubled and anxious ever since that encounter with Edwin. The more I think about it, the more I come to the same conclusion that the entire session was a staged,’ said Patsy with a slight edge in her tone.

‘Why do you think that, Patsy?’

‘Something Cassandra said, or perhaps the way she said it, just gave me the impression that it was intentional; she said it is sometimes we have to relive our bad memories in order to drive them from our souls, if I remember correctly, which was just an odd thing to say. And also the fact that both of you just happened to be present when he attacked me. Who told him I didn’t eat rice? There is no way he would have known that unless he was prompted.’

‘Patsy, the entire dining staff knows you are never to be served rice; that was made clear the first day you were here. And. yes, we, the staff, were concerned that you were not opening up about your internment camp experiences, the memories that come back to you in the form of nightmares and are what we refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.’

‘But, Louise, my nightmares had become infrequent and less severe, at least since I have been here. Now, I’m afraid to go to sleep for fear I’ll have a nightmare.’

‘I know that is frightening for you, dear, and we certainly don’t want to cultivate a phobia in you. But part of the coping process will be for you to discern what triggers those nightmares, and learn to control them when they do enter your consciousness. The group therapy leader is an expert in the field of PTSD, and can guide you through identifying triggers and developing coping strategies. However, for the remainder of our time together today, I would like to return to our conversation about your early life before the camps, that is, if you are agreeable.’

Patsy nodded her head signaling she was agreeable to what she perceived was a more pleasant discussion.

‘You indicated that after being chastised for wearing your father’s shoes and tie, you were so afraid of embarrassing your family, and possibly being sent away altogether, that you became compliant with, shall we say, acting like a little girl?’

‘That’s right. I went to ballet classes, which I actually enjoyed except for those hideous tutus. I became rather poised, and what Mother didn’t realize is that ballet is very physical so I was strengthening and lengthening my muscles, which helped me in ‘approved’ sports activities when I started school.’

‘What sports did you participate in, Patsy?’

‘I played field hockey, and swam on the swim team, and I was really good at track and field, especially distance running. I won a few medals in track events, which made my father very proud.’

‘I pretended to like dolls, but not because they developed a motherly instinct in me; I pretended I was a doctor and they were my patients. I pretended they had all sorts of illnesses and injuries and I went to great lengths to treat them. Father bought us a set of encyclopedias and I used to research illnesses, and them impose them on my ‘patients’ so I could treat them. I even operated on one of them once unbeknownst to Mother and my sister. I had to pretend I wanted to learn to sew so that I could stitch up my doll before her stuffing got all over the house. Of course, once Mother realized that I was playing doctor, she informed me that girls don’t become doctors, so the most I could hope to be was a nurse, which was really beneath someone of my social standing.’

‘It’s ironic, but when the Japanese soldiers invaded our house and ransacked it looking for valuables, one of the first things one of them found was my stitched up doll; he was sure my parents had hidden jewels in her, but when he ripped her open and nothing came out but her stuffing, he was so angry that he threw her empty carcass across the room in disgust.’

‘No one was hurt?’, asked Louise.

‘No, miraculously we weren’t.’

‘Long before the invasion, my father knew I preferred boats and trains and trucks to dolls, but he didn’t want to be a bad influence on me, at least he didn’t want Mother to see him being a bad influence, so he didn’t indulge me very often with those toys, rather he would bring me books that had lots of adventure in them that dealt with those kinds of things. I actually think he was afraid of Mother, so he generally slipped them to me when she wasn’t around. He would take me to work with him, and let me climb on the ships. I knew all about cargo ships and payloads when I was still a small child. I really lived in such a bifurcated world, one a fluffy girly world that seemed foreign to me, and the fun, exciting world where I could be myself. Is it any wonder I had such a difficult time maintaining an equilibrium?’

Patsy took on a solemn expression before continuing, ‘I don’t think Mother was really fooled by my efforts, even though she never said anything. But, in the camps, when we were being moved to a different location, before we reached the new camp, she cut my hair very short and gave me a boy’s shirt and shorts to wear; she said to me when my transformation was complete, ‘well, you’ve always wanted to be a boy, now you are one.’ ‘I know she was doing it to protect me, but I felt that even under the most trying of circumstances that I was still a disappointment to her.’

‘Where did your mother get boys clothes?’

Absent any emotion whatsoever,, Patsy said, ‘from the bodies of boys who did not make it, Louise.’

‘Oh dear, Patsy, what you have endured.’

Patsy seemed lost in thought, but a hint of a smile appeared on her lips causing Louise to gently ask, ‘Why the smile, Patsy?’

‘I was remembering a time with my father, before the camps. I idolized him, I really wanted to have a life like his when I grew up instead of the one Mother was intent on giving me. He knew how much I loved American westerns, so once when he took me to the shipyard with him, he surprised me with my own cowboy outfit, complete with chaps, hat, boots, and a toy pistol’. Patsy was beaming at the memory. ‘He said it was our little secret and not to tell Mother. His secretary thought I was so cute in my little cowboy outfit that she took a picture of Father and me. I never saw that picture until I went to Hong Kong to care for him as he was dying; he was afraid to bring it home for fear Mother would have his head; it was one of few photographs that survived.’

‘Our little charade was discovered one day when Mother dropped by his office unexpectedly to have lunch with us. She saw us walking down the dock, Father in front and me following behind in my cowboy outfit mimicking his every step. Poor Father. He looked like he had been caught red handed robbing a bank. All he could mumble was, ‘doesn’t she look adorable, Catherine?’ The poor man looked so guilty. I was hiding behind him, holding on to his leg fearing Mother’s wrath would be turned on me at any moment.’

‘Mother, being a quintessential Englishwoman, kept her very proper bearing, that is until we got to Father’s office and she flew into a quiet, tight lipped rage. She told him he was ruining me and tarnishing the family name within the community. Father for once stood up to her and said she was crushing my spirit and that I needed to do some things that made me happy; I would outgrow these ideas and conform to the standards of a proper Englishwoman, whatever that was.’

‘He then pulled me around to face him and pleadingly asked, ‘won’t you, sweetheart? I loved him so much that I said of course I would become a proper Englishwoman. It wasn’t long after that we were captured, so I never got a chance to become a ‘proper’ Englishwoman.’

‘It sounds like your father was your ally.’

‘Oh yes, or as Mother called him, ‘co-conspirator in degeneracy.’ ‘He was so tall and handsome, and strong. I really wanted to be like him when I grew up.’

Patsy’s expression of her fond memories suddenly changed to one of profound sadness.

‘Why the sudden mood change, dear? What’s entered your consciousness to cause such a dramatic change?’

‘I remember the first time I saw him after we were repatriated. That could not be my father; not the shell of the man I was seeing with his dull expression and frail body. The nurse said. ‘Mr Mount, this is your daughter.’

‘I stood there in my oversized hospital gown, gaunt and as frail as he, staring at this pitiful creature masquerading as my father, when he looked up at the nurse and said, ‘I had two daughters, I didn’t have a son; I’ve lost my entire family,’ and then heaves of anguish erupted from his emaciated body and he screamed ‘take him away.’

‘I stood there, crushed by his rejection, and whispered, ‘father, it’s me, Patsy.’

‘He seemed to recognise my voice because he just stared at me, looking at my face searching for some element of the familiar. I finally said, ‘Mummy cut my hair and dressed me as a boy to protect me. I’m still Patsy.’ After what seemed like hours, he reached out to me with his gnarled, boney hand, which I hesitantly took. ‘He said, ‘I failed you so much, Patsy; I failed all of you. I should have listened to your mother and moved my family back to England where you might have been safe. I cannot live with what I have done.’

‘Papa, we still have each other, I managed to mumble through my own tears. Mummy would want us to take care of each other.’

‘And did you take care of each other?’, Louise said, hoping Patsy would not notice her moist eyes, or the catch in her voice.

‘Yes, we did while we were still in hospital. After our intestinal parasites were eliminated and our open wounds healed, we would eat our meals together, if that’s what they could be called; broths, geletains, and plenty of water. Papa said suffering was easier with someone you loved. As we got stronger and could tolerate solid foods again, we began walking together and doing mild calerhentics to strengthen our muscles. We slept in separate wards at night, and sometimes I could hear him screaming and begging them to stop. I never found out what his nightmares were about, but he was a tortured soul. He did tell me before he died that he had undergone a series of ECT treatments after we came back to London. I did remember noticing a change in his personality about the time I was to start nursing school and right around the time he moved to Hong Kong.’

‘What kind of change, dear?’

‘One the one hand, he seemed more at peace than he had at any time since we were repatriated, but there was a new restlessness about him; he wanted to be closer to his work and his business partners, so once I finished all of my education requirements at the Catholic boarding school and enrolled in The London nursing program, he left for Hong Kong.’

‘How did that impact you, Patsy?’

‘We had been very close after repatriation. While I was in boarding school, he was working from London, and he was very attentive and always made time to come to my school activities. I would go home on school holidays, and he would be captivated by my stories, which I usually embellished just to entertain him. When he left for Hong Kong, I really missed him, but I was a young adult and starting my new adventures in nursing school, so those experiences mitigated his absence. At some point I developed a phobia about losing him, so I coped with it by closing my heart to him. We became somewhat distant as a result; he was always there in the back of my mind, but I kept him at an emotional arm's length. I suppose some of it was me coming to terms with my sexuality and not wanting to be an embarrassment to him.’

‘Where do you have him now, Patsy?

‘Louise, that is a very good question, and one I’m not sure I know how to answer. The realization that I am an orphan, that I truly have no living relative, is sometimes so hard to bear, but the reality of what happened to the family I had is equally hard to bear.’

‘Our time is almost up today, Patsy, but during the time between our next session, I want you to think about all the ways you have coped with your life stories we’ve shared today, and how you have become the survivor you are today, and how you will deal with these realities in the future.’

‘Louise, you continue to amaze me. You ask the simplest of questions, and I just start babbling my head off. You should have worked for MI6 during the war; you would have had those Nazis volunteering state secrets in no time.’

Louise just looked at Patsy with a non-committal expression as she thought to herself, ‘if you only knew, my dear, if you only knew.’

Patsy’s look of foreboding caused Louise to find a positive note on which to end the session. ‘I understand you are going to have a special visitor on Sunday.’

‘Delia? Yes, Delia is coming Sunday.’ Patsy’s mood lifted tenfold with the recognition that she would see Delia for the first time in almost four weeks. ‘Oh, I can hardly wait; the anticipation may very well kill be before Sunday,’ exclaimed a much elated Patsy.

Louise beamed, pleased with the emotion Patsy was displaying.

On her way back to her room, Patsy was busy compiling a mental list of things she simply had to do before Sunday: have hair and nails done, buy a new outfit and possibly a new pair of shoes too; decide what activities they could do together, her mind was racing with everything she had to do before Sunday. There was so much to tell Delia that she hardly knew where to begin.

Chapter Text

Delia woke up early Sunday morning with a feeling of excitement in the pit of her stomach. Today was the day she would visit Patsy for the first time since she dropped her off at the Center four weeks ago, and she was looking forward to finding out for herself how Patsy was getting along. Although she had received weekly reports from her treatment team, she still wanted to see Patsy and hear from her how she thought her rehab was going; afterall, she could read Patsy’s emotions so well she would know if she were putting up a good pretense for the staff.

She had taken so long in choosing her outfit and doing her hair and makeup that she was afraid she would be late, but she successfully achieved the desired look, which she hoped would distract Patsy enough that she wouldn’t notice her tardiness. She had purchased an above-the- knee soft yellow skirt, which she topped off with a pale yellow form fitting sleeveless shirtwaist blouse, and dressy sandals, all of which highlighted her toned physique. She sped into the parking lot, exited the car quickly before the engine barely had time to completely stop, and bounded to the entrance of the rehab center with her collar length flip swishing in rhythm with her steps.

The lobby was crowded with people; from her right periphery, she noticed a timid lady nervously wringing a handkerchief as she looked warily toward the doors, probably waiting for an abusive husband, Delia thought as she hurried on toward the visitor’s desk. From the corner of her left eye, she noticed an older man sitting with a stunning younger woman, no doubt a trophy bride; wonder which one is the patient mused Delia, as she continued her hectic pace toward the desk. Just as she was about to inquire with the receptionist, she heard Patsy calling her name, ‘Delia’. She turned around, scanning the crowded room in anticipation, looking for that ginger head, but to no avail. Then to her astonishment, the trophy wife called her name.

The woman, her smiling face changing to a look of concern at seeing Delia’s sudden change in countenance, stood and walked toward her. A noticeably crestfallen Delia stared in dismay as the woman approached her and she realized who the trophy wife was: Patsy had taken another man, she thought as she forced down the bile rising in her throat.

Patsy was getting closer to her with each step, ‘Delia? Whatever is the matter with you? You look absolutely ghastly. Are you unwell? Come here and let me introduce you to George, then I’ll get you some tea,’ Patsy said with genuine concern in her voice.

Delia forced a smile as she reluctantly followed Patsy toward that man, who rose as they approached. ‘George, this is my dear friend, Delia Busby. We met in nursing school and have remained friends ever since,’ Patsy said as she looked warily at Delia’s wounded expression. ‘Delia, this is George Westbrook, one of the inmates,’ she whispered in a conspiratorial voice. ‘George was sitting here in the atrium waiting for his wife when I came to watch for you, so we passed the time by commiserating, you know how prisoners tend to do,’ Patsy said with a wink.

George offered his hand to Delia, who limply took it, ‘I’m pleased to meet you George,’ said a hollow voiced Delia.

‘The pleasure is all mind, Miss Busby. Please enjoy your day with our Patsy.’

‘Thank you, George. Patsy, I brought a change of clothes in case we might want to take a walk. May I put them in your room?’

Patsy’s own excitement had been noticeably dampened by Delia’s sudden mood change, ‘of course you can, Delia.’ As they walked toward Patsy’s hall and out of earshot from George, Patsy leaned toward Delia and said, ‘I didn’t think my hair color would affect you so negatively; I was hoping you would approve, but when you looked so disappointed, I was horrified you hated it. Maybe I should wear a hat.’

‘Oh no, Patsy, I really do love your new hairstyle and color; it reminds me of the bob Trixie wore once, but your color is much more attractive than hers. It’s just I was,’ interrupting her comments with a big sigh before continuing, ‘expecting a red head and couldn’t process in my mind that that woman was you. It’s about time for my monthlies and I’m just not clear headed. You really do look magnificent. My I use your restroom?’ Delia asked, as they entered Patsy’s room.

‘Of course, you really don’t have to ask my permission, Delia.’

Delia closed the door behind her and leaned against it. Where had that emotion come from? If she were honest with herself, she was glad, even happy, that she was wrong and that Patsy hadn’t taken up with another man. But, in another emotion that was somewhere between frustration and relief, she knew she would still be responsible for Patsy. Something about seeing Patsy with George released anger she didn’t even know she still had. ‘Take a deep breath and get yourself under control’, she chastised herself.

‘Delia, if you need any tampons, there are some in the left vanity drawer.’

‘No, I’m good,’ Delia replied as she flushed the unused toilet.

Delia exited the bathroom smiling sheepishly, in effect apologizing for her behavior, ‘you really do look ravishing, Pats.’

‘As do you, you little fashion maven, come here and let me give you a hug,’ Patsy exclaimed as she held out her arms for Delia; ‘I’ve so looked forward to this day; to seeing you again, I’ve got so much to tell you, and I want to hear all about your new job. Let’s get that cup of tea,’ she said as she wrapped her long arms around that familiar petite body, nuzzling her lips against the top of those silver streaked brunette tresses in the process.

‘Delia held on to the hug a little longer than she should, relishing Patsy’s smell and touch. Patsy really had gone to great lengths to look beautiful for her arrival and she had almost ruined it by jumping to false assumptions; the bile was still bitter in her mouth. ‘A cup of tea would be wonderful’, she said, reluctantly letting go of Patsy’s soothing hug.

They walked side by side down the hall, occasionally bumping arms and brushing hands, but neither made an attempt to put any distance between them. ‘Shall we sit on the patio and enjoy this beautiful day?, ‘ asked Patsy as they entered the dining room. ‘It will also afford us some privacy. ‘We can go through those doors straight ahead.’

‘Sounds wonderful. Shall we also have a bite to eat? I missed breakfast.’

‘Would you like some Welsh cakes, Miss Busby? I think they are delicious, but then I’m not the expert,’ winked Patsy.

‘I suppose I should insure these Scots are upholding the high standards to which I’m accustomed,’ giggled Delia, trying to project some levity, but still twinged with guilt over her wrong assumptions.

*****

The tea and cakes settled Delia’s stomach and her mood improved as a result, ‘Patsy, I can’t stop staring at you; you are positively radiant. That green and white pattern in your dress reminds me of one you used to wear on our lunch dates way back when. I see you’re still the queen of collar bones.’ As her eyes went from Patsy’s lips to her exposed decollete and up to her blue eyes, she felt heat creeping up her neck, and another conspicuous anatomical reaction expressing itself on her chest. Patsy, taking full advantage of Delia’s obvious discomfort asked, ‘ Are you still feeling unwell, Delia? Your face is flushed, and, um…..it looks as though you have a chill; perhaps some water, huh?’, Patsy quipped with the upturned smile of hers that Delia knew so well.

‘I’m fine’, Delia snapped as she tucked her napkin into her blouse and spread it over her tattle tell chest. Quickly changing the subject, she asked, ‘how are you, Patsy? Are you in a good place emotionally?’.

‘Delia, I am beginning to get to an emotionally more comfortable place. Louise has helped me explore my early years before the Japanese took us away, and I am discovering that I did have some semblance of a happy childhood despite my Mother’s best intentions to make me into a “proper Englishwoman”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mother very much and I know she loved me, and protected me to the very end of her life, even though I remained a disappointment to her,’ Patsy said softly as a slight sadness passed over her face.

‘I’m still not comfortable with group therapy and dealing with traumatic memories, but I am learning coping techniques whenever something triggers an unpleasant flashback; I was setup and emotionally sabotaged to get me to open up about my war time memories. I was quite upset for a few days, and can still get worked up if I let myself, but Louise and Cassandra helped me to calm down. Overall, it’s a learning and growing process, and I suppose I will be forever grateful to you for encouraging me to come here.’ Patsy then reached across the table and squeezed Delia’s hand. ‘I wish I had come here before I bottomed out, but better late than never.’

‘I’m very happy for you, Patsy. I knew you weren’t ready to quit. You look more radiant than I can ever remember. It is really good to see you so positive and glowing.’

‘Enough about me, I want to hear all about you. I’ve sat in my chair and stared out over the distance at that red light on the water tower and thought about you and wondered how you were getting on. I really have thought about you every day, Deels.’

Delia smiled revealing her dimples, and began telling Patsy about her experiences with the joint and allied nurses. Her enthusiasm increased as she recounted the camaraderie she enjoyed with her three subordinate commanders, causing Patsy to wrinkle her brow slightly. ‘Deels, are you sure you’re being careful? Don’t risk everything you’ve accomplished.’

‘Patsy, everyone knows where the boundaries are. Please give me some credit; I did learn discretion from the master, you know.’

‘Touche, that you did,’ Patsy said with a knowing smile.

Delia then told Patsy about her boss, Colonel Houston, who was doing her best to take women back to the nineteen fifties. ‘You don’t deserve that kind of boss; she reminds me of that despicable Sister the Mother House tried to foist off on us right before I left for Hong Kong. Ugh, I couldn’t stand her, I would have been fired for sure if I hadn’t left when I did.’

Delia then told Patsy that the Colonel had delegated several of her responsibilities to her so that she had been rather busy with administrative duties that had nothing to do with her own job.

‘What kind of duties’, asked a concerned Patsy.

Oh, I have to hire another civilian doctor to staff the center incase the rest of us are deployed, and she’s already trying to influence my selection. I don’t know why she didn’t just do it herself if she knows the outcome she expects.’

‘That’s a coward’s way out, and very unprofessional. I’m sorry Deels, but I know you’ll do the right thing,’ Patsy said in a soothing voice that made Delia tingle inside and her two goosebumps become even more pronounced.

‘She’s also delegated the Center Christmas party to me, the biggest formal event of the year, which I have yet to get my head around.’

Upon hearing that Delia would be hosting the Christmas party, Patsy’s interest piqued. ‘Oh, Delia, I want to help you plan this party; you know that organizing and planning are my forte, and I’m itching to have something meaningful to do. God, it’s been so long since I’ve felt like I did anything worthwhile. I can do invitations as my arts and crafts project,’ beamed Patsy; ‘I hate those sessions, I feel like I’m back in kindergarten. You know I was never into crafts anyway, but designing invitations for a formal party is something I can get excited about.’

‘I can even help with catering; I’m on good terms with the chef who has his own catering business on the side.’ In a hushed, conspiratorial voice, Patsy winked, ‘I think he bats on our team, Deels, if you know what I mean.’

Delia smiled at hearing Patsy’s summation of the chef, but was leary about her involvement in planning the big party. ‘I don’t know, Patsy, I’ll have to give some thought to it. But I must say, I’m really impressed by your enthusiasm. Do you think you can even get approval from the staff here to participate in this event?’, Delia asked skeptically.

‘Well, I’m sure if we write up a plan and you bless it, I can convince Louise and my kindergarten teacher that this will be good for my confidence and self esteem. My emotional healing is at stake; please, Delia. It’s been so long since I’ve felt like I contributed to anything meaningful. Aside from being of help to you, I need this for my own sense of self.’

Delia, feeling her resistance melting by Patsy’s sincerity, said, ‘Pats, let me write down the ‘who, what, when, where, why’, and let you draft a plan of ‘how’ this will be accomplished. By the way, I do have a limited budget for this, so don’t plan like we’re entertaining the Royal family.’

‘A step above crisps and popcorn then. I’ll grab something to write on and we’ll get started’, Patsy exclaimed as she rose from the table and dashed to a nearby office where she helped herself to a pad of paper and a pen.

Delia got to drafting a detailed synopsis of what was to happen while Patsy looked intently over her shoulder. The function would be at Delia’s home on the evening of the first Friday of December, early enough so as not to conflict with other holiday activities. Approximately one hundred twenty five officers and their spouses or significant others would receive formal invitations to which they were expected to rsvp; the attire would be black tie for men and formal, floor length uniforms for women officers, and formal evening gowns for women civilians. And finally, she wanted heavy hors d’oeuvres along with wine and a non alcoholic option.

‘Ooh, not only do I get to plan for this momentous affair, I get to buy a new evening gown too’, said a positively giddy Patsy with her trademark body wiggle, causing Delia to smile and roll her eyes, ‘Pats, you’re just too much sometimes.’

‘I shall devote my full attention to making your party the envy of the Royal Army. Let’s change into our walking clothes and get some sunshine while I ponder how to put this thing together,’ quipped Patsy. ‘I should like to visit your home so that I can envision the traffic flow and food and beverage arrangement. We are supposed to be able to leave the jail for an afternoon outing next weekend. Would you be able to rescue me for a few hours? I promise not to commit any crimes while in your care,’ Patsy winked.

Another tingling feeling crept into Delia’s stomach and she was glad that her napkin was still hiding her prominent goosebumps. ‘ I think we can arrange a visit, Miss Mount.’

‘Excellent, Miss Busby. Then I can draft a plan for your approval so I can present it to the warden.’

Delia flashed a big dimpled smile while squeezing Patsy’s hand as they began their walk, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company. Neither wanted this day to end.

Chapter Text

Delia stormed out of Colonel Houston’s office gripping the folder so tightly that her hand ached. Once outside, the heat and humidity coated her already sweltering body making her feel as though she were drowning in a geyser, but she still had enough energy fueled by her anger to kick the stone lying in her path so hard that it barely missed a second story window pane in the building across the street.

She walked past the clerk without speaking. Closing the door to her office, she threw the folder on the desk, then plopped down in her desk chair, and placed her hot, sweaty face into her palms, and began softly sighing.

What was she going to do? She absolutely could not let this happen, even if it meant the end of her career, she had to stop it. She had to call someone to get the details, but who? She had already left Poplar when it happened, all she knew was what Patsy had told her. She had to get accurate information so that she could formulate a plan. Phyllis - maybe Phyllis would know what had happened, she still had all of her faculties the last time Delia had talked to her even if her body had failed her.

She pulled the folder toward her and angrily opened it; seven names on the list and only one with the slightest of asterisks beside it, indicating Colonel Houston’s choice for the civilian physician’s position. Chadwick Pickering, her old nemesis, the man who drove her from her relationship with the only woman she had ever loved; the man who demeaned her, who sowed seeds of distrust in a very vulnerable Patsy; the man who had stolen from the hospital and sexually assaulted his female patients; the man who had tormented Patsy and stolen her savings on his way out of the country. And, Colonel Houston wants him selected over all the other candidates regardless of their merits; even a cur dog would be more qualified, at least you could expect loyalty from the dog.

She could go directly to the base Commander, General Thompson. Goodness knows she has the evidence on Houston; in her very handwriting nonetheless, the asterisk beside his name bearing witness to her misdeeds.. Of course, Houston could always deny it, claim it was a smudge on the paper. And, poor General Thompson, he hated controversy, and as he had said many times, would rather have an enema from a fire hose than deal with Colonel Houston. No, she would have to be circuitous about eliminating Chadwick from the pool, but first she had to get the facts.

She went to her quarters at lunch time to call Phyllis from her own phone rather than the office phone, lest anyone over hear her conversation.

‘Hello, Phyllis Crane speaking,’ upon hearing the falsetto voice, Delia lost her resolve and could not control the shaking in her voice.

‘Phyllis, this is Delia. How are you you?

‘I think the question is how are you, lass? I can tell by the tone of your voice that things are not well with you. Is it Patsy? What’s the matter, dear? How may I help you?’

‘Oh, Phyllis, I could never fool you, but it’s not Patsy, not directly anyway. She’s actually doing remarkably well, more so than I ever dreamed possible. The problem is my boss and what she is trying to make me do. She delegated her responsibility of hiring a new civilian doctor to me, but has basically instructed me to hire a specific person.’

‘Well Delia, even if that person happens to be the best qualified, the hiring action will always have the whiff of favoritism to it, and lord help you if the other applicants should find out, why you could be in a real pickle; your stellar career would be over I’m afraid.’

‘ Phyllis, she wants me to hire that horrible man Chadwick Pickering the man who broke up my relationship and then destroyed Patsy after stealing from the hospital and assaulting his female patients at least this is what Patsy told me I am hoping you know the whole story and how I can get evidence and…..’

‘Ok, lass, slow down before you start to hyperventilate and let me get my thoughts together, that was a long time ago. But, I was the senior sister on the maternity ward, and several patients complained about him touching them inappropriately. Most of them had given birth before and knew that his kind of touching had never been done by other doctors, so they came to me individually and I helped them to file complaints after hearing their stories.’

‘About the same time, the department was audited, and a considerable amount of money could not be accounted for, from accounts that he had control over. I understand that charges were filed, but his lawyer worked out an agreement where he would repay the money and leave the country. I heard that he disappeared without repaying the hospital, but I am not sure if the charges were dropped. ‘

‘Well, he cleaned out Patsy’s bank account before he left; the one her father deposited money into every month and the only one he had access to. Her father had his trust set up so that she was paid a stipend every month, but did not give her ownership of the corporation. When ole Chad found out that he would not have control of the Mount fortune, he really took it out on Patsy, and his motives for marrying her became obvious. Sounds like he convinced the authorities he would repay the theft from joint assets, but skipped town instead. Who would know if there are still outstanding charges?’

‘My friend, Sargeant Wolff, may know the disposition. He’s retired now, but we have stayed in contact. Let me talk with him to see what I can find out.’

‘Delia, you may want to call the solicitor at the Mount Corporation; I remember hearing that they may have filed charges too since they had worked out the arrangement with his lawyer for him to reimburse the hospital, but then he disappeared with the money. What an awful man.’

‘Phyllis, you don’t know the half of it; he is pure evil. But enough of my predicament. How are you? I really miss you.’

‘Oh, I’m doing well, really enjoying the retirement home here. There are enough of us who still have all of our marbles that we can have meaningful discussions about relevant issues of the day, and I’m still practicing my Spanish. Life is what you make it, Delia; growing old is part of the journey, but as I read recently, “ we will all die one day, but on all the others we live”, so I am living each day to the maximum, even with the accommodations I have to make for my physical limitations. I have a cruise planned for next spring.’

‘Phyllis, you are such an inspiration. I miss you so much.’

‘Well, I’m not that far away from you there in Scotland; we should plan a visit some time soon. Now, let me get busy with my sleuthing. I’ll be back in touch shortly with my findings. I’ll call you at home once I know something. Goodbye, lass, and trust that this will work out.’

‘Thank you, Phyllis. I feel better already.’

*****

Her talk with Phyllis was just the balm Delia needed to get herself under control and focused. Of course, she knew Patsy’s solicitator; she had spoken with him several times while Patsy was unconscious in the hospital, he had helped her make arrangements to get Patsy into the rehab center, and drew up the medical power of attorney for her. So, with this memory front and center, a confident Delia Busby picked up the phone and called the solicitor in London.

Oh yes, he was very familiar with Chadwick Pickering. Delia could discern the glee in his voice as she related her situation to him. He had waited years for the opportunity to bring that scoundrel to justice. The charges of theft were most certainly still open, even though the sexual assault charges may have fallen victim to the statute of limitations. He would set about getting the charges in the hands of the proper authorities and would await her call notifying him when Mr. Pickering’s interview would take place. In the meantime, he would contact his counterpart in the New York office of Mount Corporation to see if there were any outstanding warrants for him in the states.

After speaking with Phyllis and Patsy’s solicitor, Delia felt as though a huge boulder had been lifted from her shoulders, and she was actually smiling when she walked back into her office. She was going to handle this; that bastard would be brought to justice, and Patsy would never know that that rogue had reared his evil soul again.

*****

Patsy was waiting in the atrium, giddy at the challenge she had set for herself when Delia drove up to get her at noon on Saturday. She was stunning in a pair of periwinkle blue capris and a crisp white shirtwaist, with a pair of oversized sunglasses topping off her ensemble. She bounded to the car carrying what appeared to be an insulated picnic bag.

‘I brought dinner,’ chimed Patsy as she placed the bag in the backseat, and gleefully hopped into the passenger seat beside Delia.

‘What a nice surprise, I won't take it as an insult to my cooking,’ Delia chirped as she pulled away from the entrance. ‘Pats, first of all, you look lovely; secondly, do you need to do any shopping in town before we go home?’

‘Thank you for noticing; you look rather fetching yourself; those mint green bermudas are rather sexy if you don’t mind me saying,’ winked Patsy while thinking to herself that, ‘we go home,’ had such a nice ring to it, ‘and, no, I don’t need to do any shopping in route; I’m totally focused on my project, so no fair trying to distract me, Colonel Busby.’

‘Very well, on to business it is then’, Delia retorted as she accelerated the car.

*****

‘Oh, Deels. This is positively charming,’ Patsy exclaimed as she eyed the brick and stucco tudor house with the brown shutters that is Delia’s home. ‘How quaint and inviting. I had envisioned you living in one of those modern square brick houses that are assaulting the landscape just about everywhere you look these days, but I am excited that you get to live in a fairy tale house. Is there a witch in there, or a ghost that haunts the place? How did you manage to live here?

‘No, the witch works on base, I’m afraid, but the pipes do rattle so loudly sometimes that I think I have a ghost. I get to live in the house because I’m somewhat of an anomaly. You see, I would normally be housed in bachelor quarters because I am single, but because of my rank and position, I’m expected to reside on base in quarters commensurate with my status; I didn’t qualify for one of the new square brick family houses because I don’t have a spouse, so because this house had been declared inadequate and outdated for married officers of my rank, even though at one time it was the base commander’s house, they determined it would be just fine for me. When I leave, it will be torn down. It’s such a pity. All the other houses that were around it have been torn down, but I saved this beauty from the wrecking ball, at least temporarily. It’s not bachelor quarters and it’s not family housing; I guess you could say it’s just a bastardized housing arrangement to accommodate my peculiar situation. You could even say it’s a metaphor for people like us, perhaps that is why I feel such a kinship with it.’

‘It reminds me of when our Poplar patients were rehoused into council homes. They were modern and efficient with all the amenities that were missing in the slums, but they were cold and sterile and destroyed the family cohesion that existed in the old neighborhoods. Progress always takes some of the intangibles with it that gives meaning to life,’ Patsy said.

‘Entre vous, mon cherie,’ quipped Delia as she opened the heavy wooden front door. ‘I hope I didn’t butcher the French too badly.’

‘No, it was perfect. Oh, this house is ideal for a grand Christmas party. Let me put the food up so that I can get started.’

‘As you noticed, the coat closet is down the hall to the left as we entered, and behind it is a small library or study. I enjoy sitting in there at night in front of the fire place reading or watching the telly because it is cosy and warm. I roll around in this cavernous living room like a marble. I do like that stone fireplace at the end of the living room, even if it does let cool air escape and invites cold air in during the winter. The dining room is off the living room to the right and the kitchen is behind the dining room. You can also access the kitchen from the living room by going down that short hallway. And at the end of the hallway to the left is a mudroom where I store my bike. There is also a half bath outside the mudroom.’

‘The bedrooms are upstairs, I take it, then?’, asked Patsy.

‘Yes, there are three bedrooms and two full baths on the second floor.’

‘I don’t need to see them at the moment,’ said Patsy, suddenly in her Nurse Mount persona. ‘I shall draw the floor plan and we can determine traffic flow for your guests and the caterer. I also brought my Polaroid so I can take pictures of the rooms we will use, if you don’t mind.’

‘No, of course not. Well, very well then, I’ll put the kettle on,’ Delia said, not knowing exactly what to do with herself as Patsy became all business.

Delia sat at the kitchen table watching Patsy diligently go about her task, oblivious that she was being watched with adoring eyes. Delia, too, was oblivious that she was experiencing a feeling of serenity as she watched Patsy; this was the old Patsy, her Patsy, pre-Hong Kong Patsy, totally absorbed in her task. She was unaware of the smile on her face as Patsy entered the kitchen.

‘Well, Miss Busby, you look like the cat that swallowed the canary if I might say. Just what has you grinning from ear to ear?’

‘Just watching you totally engrossed with you project, sort of like old times, Pats. You are such a dynamo when you dedicate yourself to a project.’

‘I shall take that as a compliment, one of the few I have received in recent memory. Are you ready to discuss my proposal?’

‘Indeed I am, but let me freshen your tea first; everything goes better with a spot of tea.’

‘That would be lovely, Deels,’ Patsy said with a winsome expression.

Patsy spread out her diagrams across the table and explained her concept to Delia. She would divide the invitees into three groups with the first group arriving at five thirty and socializing for fifty minutes, allowing Delia a short break and the caterer time to replenish the food before the next group arrived. Patsy thought the living/dining area could accommodate eighty people, but Delia didn’t think there would be that many because not all officers have a partner, and the unattached single officers would either come alone or couple up so the total number would be somewhere around one hundred seventy five instead of two hundred twenty five, making each group much more manageable. They would know for sure once the invitations went out and the rsvps were returned.

Delia would provide Patsy with the list of invitees and their addresses, and Patsy would design and do the invitations by hand; Patsy would also work with the caterer on the menu.

They wrote up the plan, complete with floor plans, pictures, and traffic flow, which Delia approved, and which Patsy would then present to Louise on Wednesday during her regular session.

‘Now, Colonel Busby, I have worked up an appetite. How about you,’ asked Patsy.

‘I am famished, watching you work has worn me out,’ Delia laughingly said, exposing her dimples.

‘I have a surprise for you, Deels, but I’ll need to use the oven,’ but as she went to get up from the table, their eyes locked, time was suspended, and their heads moved closer to one another with their lips just about to touch when the phone rang, jarring them back to reality.

‘I’ll take it in the study; I’m expecting an important work call’, Delia stuttered as she trotted toward the study. ‘Make yourself at home, Pats,’ she shouted over her shoulder as she disappeared around the corner.

‘How I would love to make this my home with you,’ Patsy uttered under her breath.

‘Hello, Colonel Busby speaking. Oh, hello Phyllis, I was hoping it would be you. Do you have any news for me?’

‘Yes, Lass, I certainly do. Sgt Wolff was kind enough to do some prying into the situation, and he discovered that charges are still pending on the theft from the hospital and the sexual assaults. Write down these names and phone numbers as they are the ones you would need to contact about his arrival for the interview.’

‘I’m going to pass this along to the Mount corporation solicitor and let him decide how to proceed. He was very interested in bringing this pig to justice.’

‘Phyllis, I can’t thank you enough for your help. I shall keep you apprised of the outcome.’

‘My pleasure, afterall, I have an interest in bringing this scalawag to justice too; he assaulted my patients. I will look forward to your call telling me that he is behind bars. And, Delia, if I can help you in any way, please call me.’

‘Oh, Phyllis, I will and I am definitely coming to visit you before long. I promise.’

‘I’ll hold you to that, Lass. Goodbye.’

Delia put the information in the desk drawer out of sight, and went toward the kitchen where she stopped suddenly, mesmerized by what she was seeing. Patsy had set the table with wine glasses at one place setting, and was humming and smiling unselfconsciously while taking something from the oven. It was a sight that Delia used to dream of seeing when they were in love. Her heart skipped a beat and she was also smiling unreservedly when Patsy noticed her presence.

‘Oh, hello, Deels,’ Patsy said with a bashful smile. ‘Come sit down and close your eyes while I serve you.’

‘You might poison me, I should like to see what I’m eating.’

‘Ye are of little faith, Delia. I have no desire to do you in. How would I get back to the center? Now close your eyes and open your mouth, please,’ Patsy said as she carefully placed a bite sized tidbit into Delia’s mouth.

‘Oh my god, Pats, that’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. My taste buds are having an orgasm,’ Delia giggled as she swallowed.

‘Keep your eyes closed, now take a sip of this and tell me what you think,’ she said, gently placing the wine glass to Delia’s lips.

‘Wow, that’s good. What is it? It’s not wine, but sort of tastes like it could be.’

‘Keep those baby blues closed for just another moment, and open your mouth,’ Patsy commanded, while placing yet another morsel in Delia’s waiting mouth.

‘Oh, that’s good too. Do I have to choose between the two.’

‘No, you can have both. Now, take a sip of this beverage and tell me what you think.’

‘It’s sweeter than the first one, but also good. May I please open my eyes now, Pats?’

‘Yes, you may. Have some more of these appetizers.The first one was a mini Yorkshire pudding and the second one was a mini beef Wellington. I thought they would be excellent for your party.’

‘Thank goodness there are more. My appetite has been whetted.’ And, then she laughed out loud, ’Patsy, those Yorkshire puddings look like little penises.’

‘Oh, they do, I never thought of that. They’re little popovers with the tops cut off and stuffed with the beef and sauce, then recapped. Shall we replace them with something more prudent,’ Patsy said, snickering at her unintended joke.

‘Oh no, I love them, and besides, I’m told some think me a castrating woman anyway, so this is just too rich and ironic. They will be the talk of the base.’

‘You certainly may eat all you want, I brought plenty, and here is a cold appetizer too, smoked salmon on a cucumber slice with a dollop of dill sauce. There will be some crudites too and a cheese board with some charcuterie as well. I didn’t bring those since they are not that unique.’

‘Pats, can I afford these?’, Delia asked with her mouth full of Yorkshire pudding.

‘Yes, of course. I wouldn’t have brought them otherwise. What did you think of the beverages?’

‘I really like them. I don’t feel a buzz, tho. What are they?’

‘The red one is currant juice. It’s tart enough to be a good substitute for red wine, and the white one is grape juice from Chardonnay grapes. It’s a bit sweeter, but not too syrupy. I think they are excellent non-alcoholic choices.’

‘Umm, I agree. You have outdone yourself, Miss Mount,’ Delia said still stuffing her mouth with mini beef Wellingtons and Yorkshire puddings. I didn’t realize I was so hungry. ‘Watching you work created an appetite in me. Please help me eat these, Pats.’

So they spent the remainder of the afternoon munching appetizers and some grapes that Delia took from the refrigerator, giggling and just enjoying each other’s company until it was time to take Patsy back to the center. They rode in comforting silence, holding hands until they reached the entrance.

‘If Louise has any questions of me, please have her call me. I am really excited about this, Pats. Thank you for a lovely afternoon. I will anxiously await the decision. Good night, cariad.’

Chapter Text

Delia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. ‘General Thompson, I simply can’t go to a conference that week; that’s the week we have scheduled interviews for the civilian doctor positions, and I’m president of the panel, letters have already been sent to the applicants advising them of their interview times. Can you please send someone else, sir?’

‘No, ‘fraid I can’t, Colonel Busby. You’re the only one I want representing this command at the most important combat field hospital conference of the year. You have more experience that all the others put together, and besides, you spin a good yarn, not to mention that you are pretty easy on the eyes too. Those old codgers might actually pay attention if a pretty young colonel is doing the talking. You have competent subordinates who can step in as president of the panel in your absence. Designate one of them as president. Just let Personnel know about the change,’

Delia wondered to herself if he thought of the young male officers as ‘easy on the eyes, able to hold the attention of old codgers with their looks’. She supposed it was meant to be compliment, so she would take it as such, and let the objectification pass.

‘What about Colonel Houston? Does she know I won’t be available for the hiring panel?’

‘Not yet, I will inform her today, but I wanted you aware of it so that you could start working on your presentation. Is there a problem that I’m not aware of, Colonel Busby?

Oh, God. Only if you call compromising the hiring process and my integrity a problem, otherwise there's no problem at all, thought Delia. “No sir, not at all.’

‘Very well, then. Go get your panel members briefed, then get ready to head to London in a fortnight.’

‘Yes sir,’ mumbled a subdued Delia as she left the General’s office. What was she going to do? The plan was set; the solicitator from the Mount Corporation had notified the law enforcement authorities who would be waiting to arrest Chadwick as soon as his interview was over. What would the panel think seeing one of the applicants carried off in hand irons without her being there to calm the waters? Who would she get to serve as president in her absence? She just couldn’t go to that damned conference. She needed to talk to Phyllis.

*****

‘Actually, Lass, I think it is for the best that you be out of town for his interview. You’ve set the plan in motion, it’s not necessary for you to be present when he’s arrested.’

‘How can you say that, Phyllis? I’ve waited thirteen years for this; I want to see it through to completion. I want to see the look on his face as they put the the cuffs on him and take him away.’

‘I know revenge is sweet, and you’ll have your revenge knowing that justice has been served, but you don’t have to be present to gloat. Discretion is the better part of many things, Delia. It’s best for your safety and career that he not know you are involved at all. He could make all sorts of allegations about you, smear your reputation as part of his defence. Desperate people do desperate things, Lass. Now, who will you designate to be president of the hiring panel?’

‘I suppose you are right, Phyllis, as always. It will have to be the Australian Army Nurse, Major Maureen Lloyd. She is the next senior member of the panel after me, and she is poised and very level headed. I just hate for her to be unaware of what will happen after the interview; I feel like I should give her a heads up, or something.’

‘Absolutely not,’ barked Phyllis. ‘No one must know of this arrangement. You simply cannot risk him getting wind of any, shall we say, collusion. Not to mention that you don’t want word getting back to your boss, or the General. It’s simply too risky, Lass. Now, you just act like you don’t know him from the other applicants, and turn the reins over to your trusted subordinate.’

‘I know you’re right, Phyllis. I’ll just have to live vicariously when Maureen tells me what happened.’

‘That’s my girl. Now, I expect to see you on your way back from your London conference.’

‘That you will, Phyllis, you most definitely will. As always, thanks for your wise advice.’

*****

‘Colonel Houston, I tried to get out of going to this conference precisely because of the hiring panel, but General Thompson insisted I go.’

‘I don’t know why he didn’t consult with you first, ma’am. He called me to his office and directed me to go to London to present our deployment concepts to the conference attendees. I have designated Major Lloyd to serve as president of the hiring panel in my absence. She’s been involved in planning the process from the beginning, so she is more than capable to take over in my absence.’

‘No, I have not told her about a particular applicant, as that could compromise her integrity. Mr. Pickering will have to bring his A game to the interview.’

‘My apologies, ma’am. I didn’t mean to be impertinent.’

******

‘Hello Maureen. I trust everything went well with the interviews and you have selected the ideal candidate.’

‘They arrested one of the applicants.’

‘What did you say, Maureen? I thought you said they arrested an applicant; must be bad weather between London and Edinburgh.’

‘Ma’am, I said they arrested an applicant, and the weather is fine here.’

Oh, that is very odd. Who Did they arrest? Do you know why? That must have been a shock.’

‘’We had just finished his interview, and he asked me where Colonel Houston’s office was. Seems they are old friends and he just wanted to pop in to say hello. He sort of smirked as he inquired about her office, like hey, underling, I’ve got connections in high places so your silly little panel sham is of no concern to me. I escorted him to the door and was in the process of pointing out her building when these men stepped out of a car and arrested him. They bloody arrested Chadwick Pickering. Put the cuffs on him and put him in the car and drove away. I stood there with my mouth agape. Nothing in my training or experience prepared me for this scenario. Finally I realized I needed to call Colonel Houston and General Thompson to let them know of the incident. Old Houston was flustered and furious, but General Thompson laughed and asked, ‘what kind of criminal enterprise you running down there,Lloyd.’

‘Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?’

‘Colonel Busby, have you taken leaves of your senses; what are you talking about?’

‘I don’t know exactly what it means. Sue says it all the time. Just some American idiom. I suppose what I’m asking is, other than Mr. Pickering’s arrest, did we have any decent applicants we would want to work with and entrust the base hospital to in our absence?’

‘I think there are two promising candidates to choose from. Please don’t ever go away and leave me in charge again, Colonel Busby,’ Maureen laughed.

‘You’ve done a splendid job, Maureen. Definitely earned your pint of ale today. Keep me posted if you hear anymore about Mr. Pickering’s predicament. I’ll be back Monday.’

Delia hung up the phone, poured herself a gin and tonic, then sat down in the overstuffed chair in her London hotel room to bask in the afterglow of justice finally being served; it wasn’t quite as pleasurable as the afterglow following sex, but definitely a close second, as best she could remember. As the gin flowed through her veins and loosened her tightly held inhibitions, she started to reflect on what her life might have been had Chadwick not turned her world upside down. Would she and Patsy have worked through their issues and remained a couple? Would she have remained a ward nurse, content to live in Patsy’s shadow? Would they have adopted some little castoff that no proper English couple would take? Would she have gotten old and fat at forty one, her body worn out from endless shifts at the hospital and not taking care of herself? Would Patsy have remained content to be a midwife, or would she have become restless and unsettled again?

She would never know the answers because, thanks in part to Chadwick, she had taken her life in a different direction, and basically she was extremely pleased with who she had become, what she had done with her life. But now, her life was taking another unexpected turn; Patsy had inserted herself back in her life, even though it was unintentional, at least at first, creating an emptiness she didn’t realize existed, an incompleteness, a missing piece. She had no idea at the moment what direction she wanted this to take, but there was an underlying yearning for something else in her life right now. She refused to think about it too deeply. Would she take Patsy to London as soon as she was released, and then get on with her own life in Scotland pursuing the next career escheleon? Or would she …….........she hadn’t consumed enough gin to let herself go down that path, not yet anyway.

Fatigue finally took over and as she drifted off to sleep she saw two young women casually strolling down a sun light path, arm in arm, laughing and enjoying the universe absent of anyone else save the two of them.

*****

With Chadwick finally facing justice, Delia felt one burden lift from her shoulders; she had, at least for now, emerged unscathed by his arrest, Colonel Houston was none the wiser about her instigating the entire scenario so she could avoid her wrath. Now with that situation no longer competing for her attention, she could devote all of her anxiety to the Christmas party. She needed Patsy to reassure her that everything was under control, and she need not worry. At least that was her rationalization for stopping at the Center on her way back to the base.

*****

‘Delia, what a pleasant surprise. No one told me you were coming to visit this afternoon. I can use the distraction from the PTSD group therapy session of earlier today; grounding techniques’, Patsy grumbled and rolled her eyes as she snapped her fingers. ‘It’s wonderful to see you, and you look magnificent.’

‘Those techniques are very effective, Patsy, so don’t make light of them. Whenever you feel a nightmare or hallucination coming on, if you do things like snap your fingers and repeat over and over something like ‘it’s not real’, you stay centered until they pass.

‘I prefer to think of them as nightmares rather than hallucinations if you don’t mind, Delia,’ retorted an indignant Patsy. ‘Now, what brings you here today other than to enlighten me on this pseudo science?’

‘I was just on my way back from a conference in London when I had the urge to drop in for a visit. Sounds like I caught you at a good time, even if you are incorrigible. By the way, Phyllis sends her regards. I stopped for a short visit on my way back.’

‘I always admired Phyllis, we were birds of a feather when it came to efficiency. I hope she is well. Yes, you did catch me at a good time, we have some free time before dinner. Shall we take a stroll? You probably need to stretch your legs.’

‘I absolutely do, but first, may I use your loo?’

As Delia reentered the bedroom after relieving herself, Patsy was sitting on the edge of the bed holding the card she had sent her before she left, and giggling hysterically.

‘Whatever is so funny, Patsy? I thought that card was sweet.’

‘Oh, it is Delia, very sweet; I’m just waiting for the hug you promised.’

‘I fail to see what is so hilarious about a good hug, Pats,’ Delia retorted as she took the card from Patsy’s hand.

‘Oh, my God,’ she exclaimed, her face turning beet red. ‘I was in a hurry and didn’t read what I had written. Oh, Pats, you know I know the difference between ‘bear’ and ‘bare’, I just……..’.

‘Made a Freudian slip, Miss Busby?, chidded Patsy.

‘Now who’s using pseudo science? Shall we take that walk?’, huffed an exasperated Delia.

‘How is the planning for the party coming along, Pats,’ she asked as she was recovering from her faux pas, the walk in the outdoors doing much to relieve her embarrassment.

‘Oh, we are ready. All we need is for that first Friday in December to get here. Can’t believe it will be here in less than a month. I am so excited about this, Deels. I know you will be pleased; why you might even get promoted on the spot.’

‘That would take more than a superb party, more like a miracle.’

‘I think you should pick me up on Wednesday afternoon before the party so that I can take care of last minute arrangements, flowers, tree trimming, music, if that’s agreeable with you.’

‘As long as you can get approval from the Center to be away that long, I’m fine with it. I assume you will stay through the weekend. I don’t like leaving things to the last minute, you know. Have you selected your gown yet?’

‘Indeed I have, but it’s a secret; you’ll just have to wait to see it,’ laughed Patsy. ‘Can you stay for dinner, Deels?’

‘I would love to, but I really must get on to the base and catch up on what has happened in my absence. Perhaps I can come for lunch Sunday week.’

‘I would like that very much. Thanks for a lovely walk, Delia.’

Chapter Text

Oh, Patsy, the house looks so beautiful, so elegant, even posh; people will know I was not the decorator,’ exclaimed Delia as she entered the grand living room replete with a tree, garland on the mantel and window sills with just the right amount of gold ornaments and ribbons to reflect an understated elegance. Delia thought to herself that even the hardships Patsy has endured and the self inflicted pain she had suffered could not damped her good breeding and upbringing.

‘Thank you, Colonel Busby. I’m glad you approve,’ demured Patsy. ‘I’m glad you’re home early; we really don’t have much time before the first guests arrive. What’s on your agenda?’

‘First I want to make sure my uniform in impeccable so that Colonel Houston won’t have anything to ding me for; I won’t be wearing gloves or carrying a purse, so I can’t imagine what else she could find fault with, other than the fact that I breathe. Then, I’m going to shower, do my hair and makeup, and by then it will be time to don my monkey suit and await the guests.’

‘I’ve already had my shower, so I’ll do my hair and makeup while you’re taking yours,’ noted Patsy who had been wearing her dressing gown when Delia arrived home from the office. ‘I’m waiting to the very last minute to put on nylons, and the heels will go on just before the first guests arrive. I do hope our feet survive the night, Deels.’

‘I know, we’ll have to do a foot soak before we go to bed if we want to be able to walk tomorrow. You know Pats, I don’t think I’ve even met a man who could tolerate all that we have to do before we even leave the house each day. Except I did know this one man in Brunei, a civilian employee of the Royal Army who would dress in women’s clothes on the weekends. He made quite a stunning woman, his makeup was flawless, his nails matched his lipstick and his belt matched his heels; no woman I know has the time to look that put together, not even you and Trixie, and you two could be pretty darned glamorous. Once when I was on temporary duty in Berlin, some colleagues convinced me to go to one of those bars with them to catch the drag show, and when I went to the loo, there was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen brushing her long dark hair in front of the mirror; I couldn’t help but remark that her hair was lovely, to which she replied, ‘why thank you,’....... in the most mellow baritone I had ever heard. All I could do was fake a smile to try to hide my shock and seclude myself in a stall as quickly as possible.’

‘Well, my goodness, Miss Busby, aren’t you just the dark horse. You certainly became very wordly once you left Poplar,’ Patsy said with a look of mock horror on her face.

‘I did escape the convent, you know, I had to live a little,’ retorted Delia. ‘I don’t know why I thought of that now, other than I was thinking how the men would be wearing trousers and flat shoes tonight while the women will be enduring constricting undergarments and walking on pegs. Doesn’t seem fair. Oh well, I’m off to the shower.’

As she was donning her uniform, she needed help with her cumberbund and started across the hall to Patsy’s room, but she suddenly was stopped in her tracks by the image of Patsy with her leg on the edge of the bed pulling on her stocking. Delia’s breath caught in her throat as a soft jagged moan escaped from her throat, and she felt a rush of warmth pass over her nether region.

‘Deels, are you all right,’ exclaimed Patsy, as she looked up with an ever so slight smirk on her face.

‘Yes, I’m, uh, quite all right. I was just wondering if you could help me with this cumberbund; I can’t seem to fasten it without wrinkling my blouse,’ Delia said as nonchalantly as she could feign.

‘Only if you will fasten my necklace for me.’

‘That sounds like a fair deal,’ Delia said as she entered the bedroom where Patsy was trying to zip her dress.

‘Here, let me get that for you, Patsy; you look like your shoulder is about to pop out of place.’

‘Patsy, you are absolutely beautiful in that dress,’ Delia uttered as she fastened the clasp to Patsy’s necklace.’

‘And you, Colonel Busby, are absolutely breathtaking in your uniform,’ Patsy retorted while hooking the loops on the cumberbund.

As Delia turned to face Patsy, their eyes locked and their heads moved toward each other, but just before their lips met, they were interrupted by a knocking at the backdoor.

Patsy jerked back with a start, and with a wrinkled brow and big sigh, said, ‘that will be the caterer. I’ll let him in and get started with the setup.’

All Delia could do was close her eyes and heave a deep sigh as she whispered, ‘yes.’

Patsy’s demeanor changed; she was all business, directing the catering staff with the placement of chafing dishes, platters, stemware, plates, and insuring they knew the traffic flow. The caterer had brought his best silver serving dishes and utensils, even candelabras to complement the table. All in all it was very elegant, and most fitting for the base Christmas party.

Delia felt somewhat superfluous and in the way as Patsy and the caterer went about their business, so she went into the den and waited until time for the first wave of guests to arrive. She noted that she felt unusually calm and at ease considering she was about to host the biggest social event of the year. It appeared her trust in Patsy had not been misplaced. Patsy’s sudden appearance at her elbow startled her from her trance and they went to inspect the arrangements before the first guests arrived.

The caterer provided a doorman and a coat check person, so all Delia had to do was take her place in front of the tree in a one woman receiving line, but she looked so ill at ease and uncomfortable that Patsy quickly arrived at her side. ‘I think you won’t look so odd and uncomfortable if I also help you greet your guests.’

‘Absolutely, I was beginning to feel that something was missing, now it feels complete,’ uttered a pleasantly surprised Delia.

As each guest presented themselves to Delia, she introduced Patsy by name as a dear friend from London who helped her with this party, and who can take all the credit for the wonderful food and decor. Once all the guests had gone through the receiving line, Patsy and Delia circulated amongst them, making small talk while Patsy insured the food was replenished, and that everyone was offered a drink. Her social graces were impeccable, and Delia was so proud and happy that she felt as though she could float.

The evening went without a glitch, it seemed everyone enjoyed themselves, even Colonel Houston, who did seem visibly perplexed by Patsy’s appearance in the receiving line, but who, along with her husband, amply enjoyed the food and beverages.

As the last guest left, Delia turned to Patsy, gave her a big hug and said, ‘Pats, you are a rock star.’

*****

Delia heard her name being called in the distance, ‘Delia, sweetheart, please raise your head.’

‘What, do what?, Delia mumbled, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. Coming out of her sleep stupor, she slowly realized that she was very cold. That voice again, pleaded a little more desperately, ‘Delia, would you please lift your head?’

Delia tried to open her sleep swollen eyes as someone’s fingers were tugging at her hair, ‘are you dead?’ Please lift your head, sweetheart, my hips are killing me, I simply must move my hips.’

Delia, more awake now, lifted her head quickly, only to hear ‘ouch, ouch’ coming from that same voice, which she finally recognized as Patsy’s.

‘Ouch, that hurt, you pulled my curls’, Patsy cried as she bent both knees to her chest and rolled to a fetal position. ‘I thought I was paralyzed, I may never walk right again.’

Delia, now fully awake, cringed as she realized why she was so cold; they were both naked, uncovered, and crosswise the bed. Christ, she must have fallen asleep on Patsy’s crotch, ‘I may never look you in the face again; I am so sorry, Patsy, and so embarrassed.’

Patsy laughingly said, ‘you may never look yourself in the face again once you see what you look like now. You look like you stepped out of a horror movie.’

‘I’m freezing; I’m going to take a hot shower,’ Delia grumbled as she slid off the bed and headed to the bathroom while Patsy rolled onto her back and lifted her legs straight up towards the ceiling, then began twisting them slowly from side to side. ‘Patsy, for god’s sake, what are you doing’?

‘I’m trying to get my hips realigned and the kinks out of my muscles so that I might be able to walk upright again’, said a completely immodest Patsy while continuing to rhythmically exercise her legs.

Delia shook her head and commented, ‘what happened to the modest woman I used to know’; maybe your medications need adjusting,’ Delia mumbled as she continued her trek to the bathroom.

‘Oh, my God,’ she exclaimed as she caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror. Her hair was plastered to the side of her face where it had lain on Patsy’s groin, and in her plastered hair were a few blond curls. ‘Oh, what have I done, what have I done,’ she moaned as she stepped into the steaming shower.

Her hair was so stuck to her face that she had to wait for the steam to loosen it before she could wash it. As her hair loosened from her cheek, Patsy’s essence waifed past her nose as it melted away from her skin, the sent causing a mild tingling in her abdomen as it passed. The question was not what she had done; she knew exactly what she had done; the question was why she had done it. She lost her resolve, her judgment, her self control, and gave in to desire and passion. She violated her commitment to Patsy to insure she was properly cared for, not to take advantage of a delicate and emotionally frail person. She had violated every professional and ethical standard of her profession. Maybe she needed to recuse herself from Patsy’s case since her rehabilitation could now be compromised. How would Patsy handle their relationship if she did, in fact, distance herself now after their intimacy last night, would she spiral out of control?

‘Leave the shower running, I’m coming in,’ Patsy yelled as she opened the bathroom door.

‘Okay, but I’m finished,’ Delia said as she stepped out onto the bath mat. ‘I’ll make us some tea, or would you rather have coffee?’, Delia asked as she wrapped her wet hair in a towel and put on her robe, all the while avoiding eye contact with Patsy.

‘I believe coffee is called for this morning, or afternoon, since it is half past noon,’ Patsy replied with a concerned expression. ‘Delia, is something wrong? Are you okay?’

‘Yes, Patsy, I’m fine; I’ll go make coffee. Take your shower, and come on downstairs,’ she said without looking at Patsy.

As Delia started her descent down the stairs, the evidence of their exploits was everywhere; she found her knickers on the top step; as she reached the bottom landing, she found Patsy’s; her pajama bottoms were splayed across the back of the couch; her pajama top lay crumpled on the floor; Patsy’s pajamas were in a heap at the end of the couch. She gathered them up, and took them to the laundry room, out of sight.

Delia poured herself a cup of coffee and sipped it while staring out of the kitchen window, reliving the events of last night. Patsy had done a brilliant job with the Christmas party; she was in her element planning, coordinating and orchestrating the event. It was a mammoth undertaking, but one Patsy had begged her to do; she needed something to do that made her feel worthwhile, like she still had some worth to offer.

She was always so good at planning and organizing; when she and Phyllis Crane put their heads together on improving the rota, they created a superbly efficient system that even Sister Evangelina begrudgingly admitted was an improvement over her haphazard method. Patsy had done a spectacular job of organizing the square dance fundraiser to send the scouts to camp; she ran the scouts’ activities with military efficiency, and her ability to organize her daily routine was the envy of every midwife. So, with this knowledge and Patsy’s emerging sense of self at the Center, Delia consented to trusting her with the logistics of the base Christmas party.

After the last guest had left, and the caterer had cleaned up the dining room and kitchen, Patsy and Delia rushed to get their formal clothes off and their pajamas on. They were having Horlicks in front of the fireplace and giving each other a foot massage when Patsy announced she had a surprise for Delia; she got up and went to Delia’s stereo where she inserted a cassette. When the music started, Delia gasped and asked Patsy where she found such a tape. Patsy sheepishly told her she had made it Thursday on Delia’s stereo/recorder while Delia was at work.

‘And I thought you were slaving away preparing the house for the party.’

‘Delia, I am multi talented, now come dance with me; these are the songs we listened to when we were student nurses, I know you love them.’

‘How can I resist the Four Aces singing ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’, or The Lettermen singing ‘Shangri-la’ . Patsy, you are remarkable, sneaky but remarkable.’

Delia slowly got off the couch and sauntered toward Patsy’s waiting arms; She nestled against Patsy’s chest and put her arms around her neck. Patsy pulled her close as she swayed them gently to the music as she softly sang in Delia’s ear. While they danced to several of their old favorites, Delia removed the kirby grips from Patsy’s updo, and delicately began running her hands through her hair.

‘Thank God you’ve stopped using that horrible lacquer.’

‘Oh Deels, I've dreamed of you doing that for such a long time,’ Patsy moaned as The lettermen began singing….

‘Your kisses take me to shangri-la
Each kiss is magic
That makes my little world a shangri-la
………………...
And when you hold me
How warm you are
Be mine, my darling
And spend your life with me in shangri-la
For anywhere you are is shangri-la’

It felt so natural, they had always fit together so comfortably. She could feel Patsy’s heart beating against her chest, and it felt like they had never been separated.

‘Patsy, take me to shangri-la,’ Delia uttered.

Patsy slowly kissed her ear, then nibbled her way around to Delia’s cheek, and finally to her mouth where she found eager lips waiting to envelop her own. They kissed deeply and passionately, Delia’s mouth eagerly accepting Patsy’s tongue. Patsy’s hands found their way under Delia’s pajama top, caressing her back and gently working her hands around to her taught breast. Delia moaned as Patsy rolled her nipples between her thumb and index finger with one hand while unbuttoning her pajama top with the other hand. And, with no resistance at all, Delia surrendered totally to Patsy, her resolve melted by the passion brewing throughout her body.

They had been flirting all night; Patsy elegant in her cranberry evening gown, and Delia stunning in her long skirt and captain’s jacket, topped off with several rows of medals proudly adorning her jacket, announcing to all the world her bravery and competence. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled into a high ponytail like she wore in her younger days; Patsy’s hair, no longer a blazing red but now a natural blonde with just a few strands of gray, was in a loose updo, accentuating her long neck. They made a lovely couple, and as they floated amongst the guests, each had the other in her peripheral sight, not from a lack of trust, but simply because they could not take their eyes off each other. So, it was no surprise that the evening progressed as it did.

Clothes went flying across the room as they tried to work their way to the bedroom without losing body contact. Once upstairs, Patsy gently lowered Delia onto the bed, and laid beside her, cradling her in one arm, and with the other, working her magic down Delia’s torso until her hand found her engorged nub and very wet and welcoming entrance.

Delia was in an altered state of consciousness with every nerve ending electrified. As Patsy worked her magic, she felt as though they were floating above the clouds, the only two people in the universe, their bodies melded together in perfect harmony, and when she reached her climax, it was a cataclysmic explosion where she felt as though she was being catapulted against the stars. They slowly floated back down to earth while the aftershocks caused her body to shudder several times before Patsy gently laid her back on the bed. She had never experienced a sensory sensation like it; she remarked later when she was out of her post coitus trance that even her breast had their own orgasim.

And, so it went for the rest of the night and early morning; Delia took Patsy on her own cosmic journey with equally cataclysmic results. They continued to pleasure each other until they collapsed from exhaustion and Delia was awakened to find herself in the position between Patsy’s legs.

Patsy’s arrival in the kitchen brought Delia back to the present, and she became uncomfortable as Patsy put her arms around her with her hands resting on either side of the sink. ‘Delia, are you okay? You seem a bit withdrawn,’ she said as she attempted to nuzzle Delia’s ear.

She turned her head and shied away from Patsy, protesting that her body was completely spent, and the thought of anymore stimulation was more than she could tolerate, which caused a look of affront to cross Patsy’s face. ‘Well, I’m sorry if I made you sick.’

‘Patsy, did you ever have a luscious birthday cake that you ate so much of you could no longer stomach even looking at the rest of it? Well, that’s how I feel about anymore intimacy right now; my body simply cannot tolerate another touch. So, please get that predatory expression off your face; you had you way with me last night enough to satisfy your appetite for quite awhile. I was such a whore, I should go to church and light candles, one for each indiscretion last night.’

‘Careful you don’t burn down the church,’ quipped Patsy. ‘I think we could both be classified as whores last night, Delia, except for one thing; giving myself totally to one person is not whoring; we, I, don’t give my body to anyone else, I never have, only to you, so I’m not a whore by definition; just someone who has craved your touch for thirteen years, and has had no one else. I can’t speak for you since I haven’t known you for a long time, you may have had a variety of women in the interim, but that’s not my business.’

‘You’re right Patsy, my personal life is not any of your business, and I will not satisfy your prurient interest by revealing any intimacies, assuming there have been any to begin with. Are you forgetting that you were married and had relations with that awful man? So don’t tell me it was always only me.’

‘Delia, that’s not fair; that was so long ago and very infrequent; my vagina was overgrown with cobwebs until last night, for god’s sake.’

‘Well, that is because I am an excellent chimney sweep then. Oh, enough of this, Patsy, now back away from me, I need breathing room.’

Patsy backed away from Delia a few steps, and said, ‘now tell me what else is wrong besides your body being spent.’

‘Patsy, I fear I’ve failed you. I'm supposed to be your caretaker and I’ve taken advantage of you.’

‘I thought I was the one who took advantage of you, and I hardly feel as though you are my keeper; I’m perfectly lucid and capable of knowing what I am doing, Delia.’

‘I feel as though I need to recuse myself from monitoring your rehab; I’ve so compromised it. I’ve actually had an ethical breach that I fear may cause a set back in your progress. I need to let the team know when we have our next conference call.’

‘What do you mean let the team know?’, said an indignant and startled Patsy. ‘ I didn’t realize you were getting reports on me; you have the audacity monitoring me like I’m some sort of a laboratory experiment. Don’t tell me you are going to reveal the details of our intimacy last night, Delia.’

‘Patsy, I am your power of attorney, remember, and if I wasn’t involved in you treatment, who would be? The corporation?’ And, no, I’m not going to reveal the details, only that I can no longer be objective about your treatment and progress.’

‘I am perfectly capable of managing my own treatment, and from this moment on, YOU are no longer my power of attorney for anything!!

‘Well, I guess we both agree on that, but for different reasons,’ Delia barked as she whirled away from Patsy and headed upstairs.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To put on my running clothes, I’m going for a run; I think we both need time to cool off and think this thing through before doing anything too rash we will regret.’

`You're just going to go out and leave me here alone in your house? When you wash your hands of something or someone, you really do a thorough job, Delia,’ said an incredulous Patsy.

‘Why don’t you come with me and walk while I run; I’ll loop around and catch you.’

‘Maybe I’ll run ahead of you and loop back to get you; I’ve been working out on the treadmill three days a week, but you should already know that, so I’m just being redundant, but some fresh air might do me some good,’ said a petulant Patsy.

‘Come on, let’s get our exercise clothes on and go, it’s getting late and we need to eat soon.’

They ran side by side in silence at a moderate pace for about a mile before Patsy started slowing down. ‘You keep going, Delia, I’m going to walk for awhile, said a very angry Patsy, with clenched jaw and tears in her eyes.

‘Are you sure? We can both walk back.’

‘Delia, I said I was fine, now go on, I just need to slow down, I’m not up to your level of fitness yet, but I do need to walk some more.’

‘Okay, Pats, I’ll be back in about ten minutes,’ Delia said as she sprinted away. She ran for about another mile before turning around and running back to find Patsy. There had to be a compromise to this impasse. Patsy was hurt and feeling violated by Delia’s involvement in her treatment, but what did she expect? She knew she was her power of attorney for her health care, so why wouldn’t she be kept apprised of her progress? Delia suspected that that wasn’t the only reason Patsy was so angry. She may have assumed that because of their intimacy last night, that things were back to the way they used to be and that they would just pick up from where they left off thirteen years ago. Delia, deeply conflicted and in denial, wasn’t ready to leap back into a total relationship, although after last night, she could understand why Patsy might think otherwise. They needed to talk through this impasse; she wasn’t ready to end their friendship again; she just wasn’t ready to commit to anything more than what they had right now, at least what they had before last night.

She saw Patsy in the distance already heading back to the house, so she slowed to a trot before catching up with her, then fell into Patsy’s pace. ‘Hello, are you hungry, Pats? I’m starved. Did I see some of those sumptuous hors d’oeuvres in the fridge? How about we heat them up and enjoy them? Besides, we really need to talk, Patience Mount.’

‘That sounds like a splendid idea, Delia Busby.’

*****

After devouring a platter of leftover hors d'oeuvres in relative silence, Delia said,’let’s take our Horlicks and sit on the couch in front of the fire place while we talk.’

‘That sounds like a splendid idea’, said Patsy still in a curt tone.

Patsy sat down first, then Delia sat next to her and tried to put her arm comfortingly around her. ‘Don’t touch me!’ cried Patsy, which caused Delia to jump sideways toward the arm of the couch, and softly saying, ‘I’m sorry Pats, I didn’t mean anything untoward about it; I won’t do it again.’

Patsy cut her eyes at Delia and muttered, ‘be sure you don’t.’

Delia stared at the fire for what seemed like an eternity before uttering, ‘Pats, we’ve come too far to cast each aside again.’

‘I’m not the one who cast you aside, Delia, if I remember correctly. I’m the one who was thrown in the rubbish bin while you went off to find yourself.’

‘Patsy, please stop being so truculent; that part of our life can’t be redone, and we must move beyond it. We both have regrets. Now, let’s focus on how we are going to move forward.’

‘Patsy, I’ll remove myself from monitoring your progress, but I think I should remain as your power of attorney for health care.’

‘Why? I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions.’

‘You are now, but who will represent your best interests if you have a heart attack or stroke? Everyone needs someone to advocate for them if they are unable to do so themselves, Patsy. My Aunt Blod is mine. I would like to remain as yours.’

Patsy was silently nugging her way closer to Delia without saying a word until she was close enough to nestle her head against Delia’s shoulder. ‘I know you are right; I’m just being churlish; it just felt like you were tossing me back into the rubbish bin again. Delia, I think I’ve made it very clear how I feel about you; I want you in my life, and I’ll accept whatever terms you offer to keep you there.’

Delia put her arm around Patsy, pulled her close, and said softly, ‘I know, cariad’, while placing a gentle kiss on her temple. ‘If it is any consolation, I only monitor your progress that pertains to your welfare; I don’t know about your confidential sessions with your therapists, only that you are very committed to them; their professional ethics prevent them from discussing the details of what you talk about, even if I wanted to know.’

Patsy nuzzled closer to Delia and put her arm around her waist, and sighed. ‘Deels, I really want to have you comfort me after every session with Louise; she pulls so much out of my memory that I didn’t even know was still there; things from my childhood, before the camps, that are probably the root cause of why I acted like I did about our relationship. Cassandra is another one who makes me face who I am. It’s all very unsettling to have to deal with it all by myself.’

Delia squeezed Patsy gently, and softly said,’ sweetheart, if you need to talk about anything, you know I’ll listen. There’s so much about you that I’ve never known.’ She then gave Patsy another comforting kiss on the top of her head.

Slowly Patsy turned her body over so that she was looking into Delia’s eyes. it was a very comfortable feeling for them both. Neither spoke. Delia began to remove the kirby grips from Patsy’s hair and gently ran her fingers through her tresses, which caused Patsy to softly moan. Delia leaned and kissed Patsy’s forehead as her hand slowly found its way under Patsy’s jumper and caressed her back as she continued to ghost her face with kisses.

Delia, losing her resolve again, pushed Patsy’s bra up freeing her breasts from the cups and began caressing them, rolling her niples between her finger and thumb while their kisses became more passionate as the desire grew in each of them.

The sudden ringing of the doorbell was such an intrusion into their sanctity that both jumped as though they had been hit with a cattle prong. Patsy ended up on the floor between the couch and the coffee table while Delia catapulted over the back of the couch, twisting her ankle as her foot hit the floor.

‘Patsy, are you alright? I didn’t mean to drop you, I’m so sorry, it’s just that that damned doorbell scared me. I had no idea it was so loud. I twisted my ankle, so I’m going to have to hop to the door.’

‘Yes, darling, I’m ok, just startled by that intrusive noise. Let me help you.’

But Delia was already opening the door to see who had disrupted their intimacy. ‘Sue and Maureen. You scared us half to death with that doorbell; I’ve got to have it replaced with a chime, that thing would wake the dead. Come in, what brings you by here today,’ Delia said while noticing a silly grin on Sue’s face.

As she turned around to lead them into the den, she suddenly knew exactly why Sue was smiling; the mirror over the credenza in the hallway was reflecting Patsy pulling herself together, with her hands under her jumper obviously putting her breasts back in the bra’s cups, then making a feeble attempt to put the kirbys back in her hair. Oh cripes, how am I going to explain this away, Delia thought to herself.

Patsy came to the door and helped Delia back to the couch, and after propping her foot on a pillow, offered the guests tea and biscuits while she prepared an ice pack for Delia’s ankle.

She brought the tea and biscuits along with the ice pack, and sat down on the couch, placed Delia’s foot in her lap and put the ice on her ankle.

‘You look like you’ve done that before,’ piped Sue.

‘Yes, I have, many times. I used to be a nurse.’

‘Used to be, not anymore?’

‘No, no longer, but some things you never forget. Keep your foot elevated, Delia. Here, take this asprin, it will help with the swelling’, Nurse Mount directed while massaging Delia’s calf.

‘Thanks,’ Delia said while smiling contently at Patsy.

None of their looks and touches were lost on the observant interlopers.

‘We were out and about, and thought we would drop in to see if you survived the ordeal of last night.’ Maureen said, trying to break the uncomfortable silence that was engulfing the room. ‘I also brought some of the pictures from last night, developed them after I got home last night, thought you two would want to see them.’

‘Yes, we did survive the ordeal. A little tired today, but otherwise, content,’ sighed Delia.

‘Well, I thought it was a smashing success, everyone I talked to said it was the best formal party they had attended. The food was magnificent, whoever planned it deserves a medal,’ chimed Sue.

‘That would be Patsy. She twisted my arm to take charge when she learned of the big party Colonel Dinosaur dumped on me. Planning and organizing have always been her forte; I knew the party was in expert hands when I consented to let her take charge.’

‘Yeah, If old Ursula had done it herself, we would have had crackers and water. So, how long have you two known each other,’ Sue nonchalantly asked.

‘We went through nurses training together, where we became friends and have remained so, well actually there was an interlude where we lost contact, but we reconnected at a reunion for the old Nonnatus nurses several months ago, and have renewed our friendship,’ Patsy informed while glancing affectionately at a very guilty looking Delia.

‘What in the world is a Nonnatus nurse?’ Is that some strange specialty only practiced in the UK?’

Both Patsy and Delia laughed at Sue’s naive question. ‘The Nonnatuns are a suborder of Anglican nuns whose specialty is midwifery, although they are certified in all nursing skills. The name, Nonnatus means ‘not born’. It is derived from Sir Raymond Nonnatus who was born by cesarean. We were both midwives living in their convent for a time.’

‘Well, that must have cramped your activities, living with a bunch of judgmental nuns. Why did you leave?’

‘Quite the opposite to your assertion; the nuns were some of the most loving and caring people I have ever met. I learned what it really means to meet people where they are, to understand them and what they are dealing with on a daily basis, not to judge them by our standards. I left to care for my terminally ill father in Hong Kong. When I came back, Delia and I went on an extended holiday traveling to many parts of the world we had not seen.’

‘When we returned, our world had changed. Between the NHS ending home delivery and the birth control pill, there was very little for us to do. All nurses were pulled back into the various hospitals, most of the nuns were reassigned, and the convent closed. Delia was so unhappy that she joined the QARANC, and we lost contact. Does that fill in the blanks sufficiently,’ Patsy asked with one eyebrow raised.

‘I think we need some more tea, Pats,’ said a very uncomfortable Delia.

‘Splendid, I’ll give you a hand,’ chimed an equally uncomfortable Maureen as she followed Patsy into the kitchen.

‘So, that’s the one who broke your heart, Colonel? You don’t have a very good poker face. I can tell she really cares about you.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Sue. We’re just casual friends, that’s all.’

‘I beg to disagree with you. I apparently was taking too much of your time last night at the party. She definitely let me know whose territory I was encroaching on when she suddenly appeared with a plate of food and fed you with me standing there. She practically pissed on your leg to mark her territory as she left.’

‘I,...I,...I didn’t see it that way. She was, uh, concerned about me not getting enough nourishment, and, uh, brought some food over. That’s all.’

‘God, colonel. Denial is not a river in Egypt. Does she always sit on the floor between the couch and end table when she puts her bra on? Need help relocating that mirror, by the way? I don’t know what happened to separate you two for so long, but I hope it works out for you this time around.’

Fortunately before Delia could respond, Patsy and Maureen returned from the kitchen with hot tea and more leftovers from the party. Those two seemed to have hit it off while Delia was being put through the grand inquisition.

‘Patsy’, Maureen asked mischievously, ‘did Delia tell you what she did to me a few months ago?’

‘I don’t believe she did. Do tell,’ Patsy said with a wink a Delia.

‘She went away to a conference in London and left me in charge of a hiring panel for a new doctor, and one of the applicants was arrested as I was escorting him out of the building after his interview. I felt like I was caught in a crime drama while my colonel was enjoying the sights of London.’

‘Well, that was really high drama. I hope she gave you a raise for all of your troubles,’ said Patsy as she munched on some cheese and smoked meat.

‘With a name like Chadwick, you know he’s up to no good,’ Sue chimed in.

‘Ladies, this is a personnel issue we shouldn’t be discussing. Shall we talk about something else? Let’s look at those pictures you brought over.’

Patsy cut her eyes toward Delia, and said, ‘ I really want to hear more about this drama. Did his surname match his pompous Christian name?’

‘Oh, hell yes it did. Dickering, Puckering, Pickering, that’s it Pickering. Can you imagine having a name like that? That’s enough to turn anyone to a life of crime.’

‘That is enough, ladies. We will not discuss this any further, cease and desist now,’ commanded Colonel Busby.

Patsy’s eyes were searching Delia incredulously, somewhat in disbelief at what she had just heard.

They tried to look at the photographs from the evening before, but the tension was too thick for them to reclaim their camaraderie of a few minutes earlier. Maureen finally stood up and announced that they still had to visit others before the day was over, and almost bodily dragged Sue out the door, thanking Delia and Patsy for their hospitality as she went.

‘How long have you known about this, Delia? Were you ever going to tell me that my ex husband had applied for a job here and was arrested? Did you have anything to do with it, Delia?’ The anger building in Patsy was obvious.

‘No, I wasn’t going to tell you because it is, afterall, a personnel issue and those two will be disciplined for publicly discussing it. I can’t tell you anything else, Patsy.’

‘After our intimacy last night and this afternoon, until it was interrupted by your fawning underlings, you can’t trust me to tell me what happened that caused my ex to be arrested?’

Delia turned and hobbled to the kitchen, which only added fuel to Patsy’s raging anger, and she followed close on Delia’s heels. When she realized that Delia wasn’t going to answer, she grabbed her arm and whirled her around, standing so close that Delia could feel Patsy’s breath on her forehead. ‘I have a right to know what happened; I have a vested interest in the outcome as I am an injured party to his malfeasance, Delia.’

She was not intimidated or afraid; she knew she could overpower Patsy if it came to that; she was just conflicted, and somewhat skeptical about what Patsy might do with the information in her enraged state. She had thought that Patsy’s stay at the center had enabled her to control her emotions, but at least this time, she was approaching out of control, so Delia decided to tell her the entire story in the hopes it would help her calm down.

‘Do you remember me telling you that my boss wanted me to hire a family friend? That person happened to be Chadwick. It was bad enough that she had asked me to violate hiring practices and compromise my integrity, but when I saw his name, I knew I had to do something. I called Phyllis for advice, and she contacted an old constable friend of hers that you never met to see if charges were still outstanding. All I knew was what you had told me, but Phyllis was there when he did his misdeeds, so she got some information on his charges. She also suggested that I call your solicitor since I had worked with him when you were unconscious in the hospital, he had drawn up the power of attorney and facilitated you coming to the Center. So I called him, and he actually took it from there. He wanted him to be brought to justice after what he had done to the hospital and to you. He arranged for the detectives to arrest him. I was sent out of town to that conference against my protests, I really wanted to see him arrested. Maureen and Sue know nothing about the backstory, neither does anyone else other than Phyllis and the solicitator, and now you.’

‘Why did you feel you had to keep this from me, Delia? I really resent you taking it on yourself to call the solicitor behind my back. You’ve taken away all of my autonomy, I have no say in anything. You conspire with the staff at the center about my most intimate issues, and now you go behind my back and plot against my ex husband without consulting me. I could have been you ally, Delia. I hate him with every fiber in my body and I resent that you didn’t let me be party to bringing him down. But what I really hate is that you have usurped control of my life without my permission!!’

It happened so fast that Delia didn’t see it coming, she only felt and heard the sharp crack as Patsy’s hand forcefully landed on her cheek. She was too stunned to speak; Patsy had never hurt her when she went into one of her rages. What on earth had brought Patsy to violence. ‘Patsy, please, you are interpreting this all wrong. I was only trying to spare you having to deal with him again while you were dealing with so much already. I never meant to deceive you; I thought I was protecting you, cariad.’

‘Don’t you cariad me, ever again Delia. I want you out of my life; I want my life back, you don’t own me. Delia!! Take me back to the center.’

And with that, Patsy stormed upstairs to pack her suitcase while Delia sat on the couch and stared stunned into space.

Patsy pushed Delia’s hand away as she attempted to carry the suitcase to the car. ‘I’m very capable of carrying my own luggage; perhaps it would be better if I called a taxi. I’m not even sure you can drive with a sprained ankle.’

‘No, don’t do that Pats. Let me drive you. it will be quicker. My ankle is better, and I’m perfectly capable of driving. Won’t you reconsider and stay? Let’s talk this through, please.’

‘Absolutely not’, Patsy huffed, obviously still seething, as she headed out the door and out of Delia’s life.

‘They rode in silence, the tension so thick it was almost ear splitting. Patsy silently fuming, while Delia was too numb to cry, although she would have if that would have brought relief. She pulled the car into the entrance way, and as Patsy reached for the door handle, ‘Delia gently took her other hand and said in a tearful voice, ‘Patsy, let’s not end this way; I don’t want to lose you again, let’s work through this, please.’

But Patsy continued to open the door, turned to Delia and said through clenched teeth, ‘you should have thought about that thirteen years ago.’ The door slamming and the crunch of her feet on the gravel driveway drowned out Delia’s meek declaration, ‘ but I love you Pats.’

Delia watched her go through the doors to the center and disappear down the hallway before she slowly pulled the car onto the road.

 

Notes> The songs that Patsy recorded for Delia are what they may have listened to in the mid to late fifties as student nurses when quartets became the bridge between the big bands and rock and roll. There are numerous songs I could have substituted, but I felt that Delia, being the incurable romantic, would cave in to Patsy's advances when she heard Shangra-la.

Chapter Text

Patsy timidly knocked on Louise’s office door, and nervously entered the room upon Louise’s invitation.

‘Hello Patsy. I’ve looked forward to our meeting today and hearing all about your party and weekend,’ Louise said, her pleasant smile changing to a slight look of concern upon noticing Patsy’s demeanor. ‘I understand it was a complete success, and I know you must have a real feeling of satisfaction.’

‘How do you know it was a success? Have you talked to Delia,’ asked a suspicious Patsy.

‘No, I have not talked to Delia. Why would I talk to Delia, dear? I have many friends in the community, and some who work on base and were at the party. My friends were captivated with the elegance and yet comfortable atmosphere they experienced. kudos to you, Patsy. I thought you would be pleased with this unbiased feedback, but you look as though something else is weighing on you. Care to tell me what is on your mind today, Patsy?’

‘Yes, the party went off without a hitch, and I am pleased I could still pull off a large event,’ said a tight lipped Patsy.

‘Then what happened to so dampen your spirit?’

After a long, uncomfortable pause, Patsy finally mumbled, ‘Delia has been doing things behind my back, and I am furious about it to the point that I have cut all ties with her..’

‘This sounds serious, Patsy?’ What did Delia do to cause you to take this, may I say, drastic action?’

‘She had such a qualm of conscience, felt she had violated her responsibility for my care and was going to recuse herself from my case. But I fired her before she could do it.’

Louise was quiet for several minutes trying to digest the convoluted statement Patsy had just uttered. ‘Patsy, I’m a bit confused. Why would Delia feel she had violated her responsibility?’

Never one to dance around an issue, Louise got to the point, ‘what happened? Were you two intimate, and then she felt guilty? Is that what happened?’

Patsy could feel her cheeks starting to burn, and she squirmed in her chair all the while looking at her feet. Tears formed in her eyes, and she uttered a meek, barely audible, ‘yes.’ ‘When she said she would have to recuse herself from my case, I became enraged; I had no idea she was getting weekly progress reports from here; I felt like a laboratory experiment.

‘We talked through this impasse, and were, uh, progressing,’ a flashback of their intimacy on the couch vividly played in her mind’s eye, the red color creeping up her neck to her cheeks giving away her intimate thoughts, but she continued with her explanation hoping Louise wouldn’t notice her flaming cheeks, ’when two of her subordinates dropped by unannounced, and one of them let slip that my ex husband had applied for a job on base and was arrested after his interview, and she never said a word to me about it. After they left, we had a huge argument, and I found out she had called my solicitor and arranged for his, my ex’s, arrest to happen. She never talked to me about it or got my permission to call the solicitor. I felt violated, robbed of my autonomy and any respect I might have within the Corporation. I could have helped her nail him; God knows I hate that man.’

‘Did Delia say why she didn’t let you know about your ex?’

‘She said she didn’t want anything detracting from my progress here as I was dealing with so many issues as it was. I just feel like she took control of my life without my permission and I resented it.’

‘Patsy, when you first arrived here, you listed her as your next of kin and power of attorney. Perhaps we are at fault for not making it clear that we would keep her informed on your adjustment and progress; we do it with all of our clients. I’m so sorry we failed you in this regard. We never discuss confidential client-therapist information, so the conversations you and I have had are private and protected by law.’

‘She explained it like that too, and we had resolved our differences on that, until the other issue came up, and then I just felt totally violated. I was enraged and actually slapped her, and made her bring me back here.’

‘How did Delia respond when you slapped her? Did she retaliate?’

‘No, she asked me to stay and resolve this mess, but I didn’t want to.’

‘Did she honor your demand?’

‘Yes, she tried one last time after we got to the entrance to resolve this, she said we had come too far to end it now, but I was so angry I told her she should have thought of that thirteen years ago, and got out of the car.’

‘Did she come after you?’

‘No.’

‘Have you talked with her since that night?’

‘No.’

Louise rubbed her chin while looking out the window at some point in the distance. Why did she ever consent to letting Patsy plan that party? She should have known she was still too fragile to withstand controversy, but what was done was done, and all she could do at this point was to try to help Patsy understand her own reactions - over reactions - to what appeared to have been a very sensible act on Delia’s part. Patsy began to squirm in her chair. Would she be asked to leave the center, written off as so damaged she was beyond repair.

Louise finally broke her silence as she spoke to Patsy in the softest, gentlest voice she could modulate. ‘Patsy, my job as your therapist is not to solve problems for you, but to guide you to understand how your life experiences drive how you respond to situations. I will tell you this, people who have had their freedom taken away, who have been oppressed, had their humanity denied, are sometimes prone to rage, emotional outburst and, dare I say, overreact to situations they may encounter. You certainly fit that profile, Patsy.’

‘So it’s my fault,’ Patsy said.

‘Patsy, I didn't mean to imply fault or blame. I’m merely trying to help you understand what may have triggered your response to those situations. With your background, I can see where you might think that you had no control in either situation. Where do you go from here?’

‘Are you dismissing me from here?’, asked an emotional Patsy with a hint of panic in her eyes. ‘Throwing me out of the program?’

‘Oh, goodness no, dear. No, absolutely not. I mean where do you go with those situations and your friendship with Delia?’

‘I don’t know. I think on some level I wanted to hurt her like she hurt me when she abandoned me thirteen years ago. I was not rational, I was so overcome with rage, and I’ve seethed ever since I got back here. I suppose I am projecting all of my bad experiences onto Delia.’

‘Have you spoken to the solicitor about your ex husband? Did Delia say why she didn’t consult with you before calling him?’

‘No, I haven’t spoken to him. Delia said she had established a working relationship with him when I was in the hospital and he drew up the power of attorney for her and also made arrangements for me to come here.’

‘Were you okay with her working with him when you were in the hospital? How is that different from working with him about your ex?’

‘I was incapacitated and unable to take care of my personal affairs when I was hospitalized, so yes, I was fine with her taking care of my situation then. However, I am fully rational now, she doesn’t need to manage my life.’

‘Did she give any other reason for not involving you in your ex’s situation?’

‘She said it was a personnel matter and her subordinate should never have mentioned it in front of me. She was pretty angry about it. She had told me several months ago that her boss had an individual in mind that she wanted Delia to basically hire, a family friend. That friend turned out to be my ex.’

Patsy was unaware of Louise’s reaction to this tidbit of information, and by the time Patsy did look up, Louise had regained her poker face. ‘It sounds like she was in a difficult situation. It’s bad enough that her boss interjected herself into a hiring action, but when that friend turned out to be someone who had inflicted so much harm on you, she really had a predicament on her hands.’

‘He also inflicted harm on her too. I didn’t realize how much until we reconnected at the reunion.’

‘Patsy, our time is almost up for today, but before we part, I want to address what I perceived as almost panic in your eyes when you thought I might be putting you out of the program. Am I correct in my assessment of your reaction?’

Patsy was very quiet, looking first to the left and them to the right, holding her mouth very tight and batting her eyes willing the tears not to fall. Finally in a whispered trembling voice she began with a big sign, ‘I have lost every home I’ve ever had. First, the only home I had ever known with my family was uprooted and destroyed by the Japanese. Then, after we were repatriated, my father abandoned me and sent me to a boarding school. That became my home until I graduated and was forced to leave, abandoned on my own again. I went from there to nursing school where I felt a sense of community and family; all my needs were taken care of, even the discipline and reprimands were a form of love and concern. I felt noticed, that people cared about me, and of course, I met Delia.’

‘I continued to live at the nurses’ home after I completed training because it felt like home; I felt secure and protected. Even though I had to free myself from male surgical for my sanity, I looked for options where I might have a sense of family. That’s why I chose midwifery in part because I knew I could move to Nonnatus House when I completed my program. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a midwife and bringing new life into the world, and living in community with the other midwives and nuns fulfilled my need for family. I felt so loved, so safe, so appreciated. It was the closest thing to family I had had since Singapore.’

‘Patsy, I understand why you had to leave to go to Hong Kong, but I don’t know why you didn’t return to your position when you returned to Poplar.’

‘Louise, I was running away from my anguish of being an orphan, of having to deal with what had happened to my family, of being alone.’

‘But you had Delia.’

‘Yes, and I clung to that reality, but a partner can’t totally replace your family. I always felt that Nonnatus was the only family I had left, and that I could always return to it; it would always be there for me to come home to.’

‘After awhile, Delia was homesick for her family, and we were both tired of living out of a suitcase, so we decided to return home and, for me, to pick up where I left off. I just assumed I would move back into the convent and stay there until I became a pensioner. I was unprepared for what had happened to midwifery and community nursing in our absence.

‘Once again, my home and family had been destroyed, shattered, everyone who loved me sent in different directions. I felt I was thrown into another hostile environment again; Delia tried to make a stable life for us, but there was so much unwanted attention, I felt exposed, my secrets violated, I just spiraled out of control, made some horrible decisions, drove away the only one who loved me until I ended up an alcoholic and an expelled midwife with nothing. No family, no security other than money, no love. I hit bottom. I tried to reestablish a friendship with Delia and when she rejected me, I tried to kill myself. Would have had she not come back that night and kept me alive.’

‘She got me into this place, and over the months, this center has become a surrogate family for me. I feel safe, secure, cared for and cared about. I’ve almost gotten my equilibrium back and could look to the future. But when you asked me where I went from here, I had a sense of deja vu, not again, oh dear God, it can’t be happening to me again.’

“Patsy, that explains quite a bit, and thank you for trusting me with that information. Please rest assured you are safe here. When you are ready, we’ll work with you to transition back into independent living, but you’ll know when you are ready without us having to prompt you. Now, until next week, please continue with your healthy habits, eating three meals a day, getting plenty of exercise and sleep. Think about what we’ve talked about today; think about your relationship with Delia and whether you want to mend it or end it all together, and maybe what you see yourself doing once you do leave here.’

Patsy walked back to her room through the atrium, beautifully decorated for Christmas, the feeling of anxiety nibbling away at her insides in stark contrast to the gaiety of the room. She had not enjoyed Christmas since they were taken from their home by force in Singapore. She usually volunteered to work Christmas Eve and Day, and to provide as much relief to others as she could so that she didn’t have to think about the emptiness that this holiday created in her. She endured the days until it had passed. Delia, her Delia, on the other hand, loved Christmas and usually went home to Pembrokeshire for at least a few days to enjoy time with her family. She always felt badly about leaving Patsy during the Holidays, but Patsy assured her that it was quite all right, she had more than enough to keep her busy and occupied so that she would hardly notice it was Christmas.

Patsy returned to her room, and went directly to her chair, sat down and stared out toward the water tower at the blinking red light, her beacon in the storm.

Oh God, Delia. What have I done? All I’ve dreamed about since you left me so long ago was reuniting with you, of reestablishing, if not a relationship, then at least an acquaintance again. When finally we had reached a point where we were reconciling, I had to go and ruin it with my anger. You finally admitted that you were still in love with me, and I slammed the door in your face. Oh, please forgive me, please.

During the following weeks,, Patsy followed Louise’s advice and forced herself to eat three meals a day, although her normally robust appetite was gone, and she more likely than not, left half her food on the plate. She continued her exercise routine, especially yoga, but she did it without feeling anything other than emptiness. It did at least tire her out so that she slept through the night, well at least until about 4:30 in the morning, where she would rise from bed and go sit in her chair focusing her eyes on the water tower in the distance until the alarm clock sounded. She liked the dark and the quiet before the dawn broke; this wasn’t a time to think deep thoughts or to ponder her future; it was, rather, the time to let herself feel, to listen to the sound of her breathing, her heart beating, to appreciate the silence of the world still asleep around her, and to feel Delia’s presence.

******************

Delia had managed to hold back her tears until she got the car safely home after the finality of Patsy slamming the door and not looking back. However, once inside her house, the dam broke and tears started is large, noisy uncontrollable gulps, at times interfering with her breathing. She made it to the den where she collapsed on the sofa and buried her face in a pillow. Patsy’s scent was drifting up from the pillow making her tears flow even more violently. She thought about throwing it in the rubbish bin, but the thought of it only made her clutch the pillow more tightly.

Over the last few months since she had let Patsy back into her life, Patsy had managed to chip away at her defenses, and her carefully constructed wall of resistance that was keeping her feelings locked out of her conscious mind. But now she had let Patsy break through that barricade and free her emotions; she had realized for awhile that she was still in love with Patsy, even if she couldn’t verbalize it on a conscious level. She knew Patsy had set the trap the night of the party with her selection of songs, but she willingly took the bait, and the potion was beautiful, magical, intoxicating, and she had surrendered totally to her feelings, willing to take Patsy back, to give up her career if necessary for Patsy, until the doorbell rang, and everything went to hell.

Now what? Was it even possible to get her emotions back in that dungeon, securely locked away? Could she ever be the relentless person she had trained herself to be? Perhaps she could one day, but right now, it hurt too much to even think about anything other than her aching heart. Sleep did eventually come, but as a result of emotional exhaustion rather than genuine fatigue.

She opened her eyes, and for a moment wasn’t sure why she was on the sofa, or why her eyes felt so swollen and painful. Did she drink too much? And then it all came back to her in painful waves as she sat up. The clock indicated it was four o’clock. Should she go back to sleep on the sofa, go upstairs to her bed, take a liberal drink of gin to ease the pain, or make a pot of coffee and rehash to previous evening. She decided coffee was the best option.

On her way to the kitchen, she noticed the Christmas tree and garlanded windows in the living room, all reminding her of a happier time made all the more poignant by the heartbreak she was now experiencing. She realized she had no more official duties to host, so as soon as it was daylight, she would take down the decorations and dispose of the tree. They had served their official function and were no longer needed as a reminder of the shattered hopes they now represented.

*****
With the tree out of the house and all decorations stored away out of sight, Delia turned her attention to self care, and her need to exercise her body to the point of exhaustion. She donned her running fleece and trainers, and set out on her trek, but her legs were like lead, uncoordinated as though she had a spastic puppetier pulling her strings. Nevertheless, she plodded along until eventually she did develop a rhythm and was able to cover her usual course. The adrenalin generated by her exercise buoyed her spirits somewhat, but as her runner’s high wore off, the emptiness returned, and as she cried herself to sleep, she hoped she could lose herself in work tomorrow.

At the office, she perfunctorily went about her duties, absent of any enthusiasm, forcing a smile when necessary. The spark was gone from her eyes while an emptiness pervaded her soul causing her to avoid contact with others as much as possible, especially with Maureen and Sue, lest they question her about her uncharasteric dour demeanor. The end of the day finally came, and she left through the back entrance, hoping to dodge any chance encounters.

She had no appetite, but knew she had to eat something, so she made a cup of tea and retrieved a scone from the breadbox, but could only eat half of it, finding it impossible to swallow. Her heart had not ached this much since Patsy rejected her thirteen years ago. She should have let Patsy in on Chad’s return to the UK, but she was trying to protect her, keeping at bay anything that might cause a setback to her progress, and now her well intentioned actions, had inadvertently caused just that. How much she had regressed, Delia could only imagine.

Her self flogging was interrupted by a knock on the door. She would quickly get rid of whoever was innading her sanctuary of sadness, she needed to be alone tonight with her angst.

‘Hello, Colonel. I stopped by to help you move that mirror,’ said a grinning Sue.

‘ I wasn’t planning to move the mirror tonight, Sue,’ Delia replied somewhat tersley.

“You look like you need a shoulder to lean on tonight, ma’am. I’ve watched you all day, and I can tell your heart is breaking. What happened between you and Patsy after we left? I knew we had upset the apple cart
with our ill advised joke about the personnel issue, but it seemed to go deeper than just us talking out of school so to speak.’

Delia was batting back her tears. Yes she needed someone to talk to, and as forward as this obnoxious American Army major was, she was the most perceptive of all her officers, could always read her emotions, so she meekly invited Sue in, and over tea, began to unburden her heart. Of course, she did withhold the tidbit about her instigating Chad’s arrest. That fact should never see the light of day, but she did tell her that he was Patsy’s ex husband, that he had come between them, effectively causing Delia to join the QARANC and successfully erasing Patsy from her consciousness until the Nonnatus reunion.

She also omitted the incident of Patsy trying to kill herself, instead revealing only that Patsy recognized that she had a drinking problem, and agreed to seek treatment at the Center a few miles from base. Over time, they had become close again and were acknowledging their feelings for each other when she and Maureen showed up unexpectedly the day after the Christmas party. After they left, Patsy became enraged that she was kept in the dark about Chad and demanded to be taken back to the Center, where she slammed the car door and stormed into the building without looking back.

‘Colonel, as I told you the day we created this mess, that woman loves you, is very possessive of you, and is probably suffering deep remorse over her actions about now; she isn't going to stay mad at you forever. You need to go after her. That is, if you want her back in your life. She probably feels badly about her outburst and doesn’t know how to take it back. Go after her, ma’am. You got nothing to lose.’

‘You’re right, I need to make the first move. But, I don’t know if I had the strength of character to risk her permanently exiling me from her life. I don't even know if she’s still in the program; for all I know, she left and returned to London to her old ways of coping with disappointment.’

‘Well, there’s only one way to find out, ma’am.’

‘You’re right, Sue. I’ll muster the courage to go to her Saturday after noon, I just don’t have time this week to do it any earlier. Colonel Houston wants to see me first thing in the morning, and I had my monthly update on Friday with General Thompson, and of course, I have the daily chore of making sure my officers aren’t making too much mischief. Now, let’s move that damned traitorous mirror.’

*****

‘You wanted to see me, Colonel Houston,’ a tight lipped Delia uttered as she rendered a sharp salute.

‘I did,’ snapped Colonel Houston as she returned the salute without making eye contact. ‘Have a seat, Colonel Busby.’

The usual feeling of trepidation came over Delia as she sat on the edge of the chair in front of Colonel Houston’s desk. She never knew what inane issue the Colonel would find fault with, she had been wearing her gloves whenever she was out-of-doors in uniform, and was careful not to sling her purse over her shoulder. She even insured her running attire was so modest that it impeded her movements, so she couldn’t fathom the reason for the anticipated reprimand. Colonel Houston and her husband had seemed to enjoy the Christmas party, especially the food; she even complimented Delia as she left that night, so Delia was at a loss as to what indiscretion of hers was about to surface.

‘How long have you known Miss Mount, Colonel Busby?’

Startled, Delia groped for a response, finally uttering, ‘well, uh, we were student nurses together back in the fifties, then we worked together on male surgical at The London, and later as midwives at Nonnatus House. Why do you ask, ma’am?’

‘I was not informed that you had enlisted her help in arranging the Christmas party. Don’t you think something of that magnitude should have been cleared with me first? You allowed a civilian unassociated with this base to expend funds; the elegance of that affair I’m sure more than exceeded the budgeted amount. I can assure you that you will personally pay the difference from you wages,’ barked Colonel Houston, her anger growing more intense with each hurled word.

‘Miss Mount assured me that the function came in right on budget; I have the invoice on my desk and will submit it as soon as I return to my office. I was not aware that I needed to gain your approval for each detail of the party. My apologies, but I am a senior officer with many years of experience under my belt, and I have never had to have each detail of any task pre-approved, so that is the premise on which I planned the Christmas party.’ Delia was surprised by her terse response to Colonel Houston’s allegation, but she suspected that this wasn’t the only reason the Colonel was so out of sorts. She waited for the other shoe to drop. ‘Is there anything else, ma’am?’

After a long, uncomfortable, pause, Colonel Houston, said between clenched teeth, ‘were you aware that Miss Mount had been married to,....to my friend I asked you to give priority to on that job interview?’

Attempting to deflect the question, Delia demurely responded, ‘we don’t ask anything about marital status from our applicants, it’s not allowed by policy. Marital status is not even a question on the application, so while I was not present for the interview, I’m sure no one of the panel asked such an impertinent question.’ Swallowing hard and hoping the Colonel didn’t notice, Delia forced a confident smile as she sat back in her chair.

‘Colonel Busby, I am fully aware of the regulations regarding interviewing of applicants. That is not the question I asked you; so let me try again: ‘did you know that Miss Mount had been married to Mr. Pickering?’

Delia felt as though she was having an out of body experience, listening to the hollowness of her voice from somewhere else in the room as she attempted to formulate an acceptable response. ‘ At the time I joined the QARANC, Miss Mount was not married, so if they were married, it was sometime after I left Poplar. I had not seen or heard from her in over thirteen years until we happened to run into each other at the Nonnatus reunion several months ago, at which time we reestablished our acquaintanceship.’ It wasn’t an outright lie, all the elements of truth were there, there were just one or two facts not included. Hopefully, this satisfied the Colonel’s curiosity. If she were caught in an outright lie, it would be the death of her career, although she had that feeling that it was doomed anyway.

‘That was certainly a circumspect response, Nurse Busby,’ commented a frustrated Colonel Houston.

‘Will that be all, ma’am? If so, I have many things on my list to get done today.’

Delia could see rage building in Colonel Houston’s demeanor and braced herself for the explosion that was to come. The words rolled out softly from her lips at first, before the dam broke and the rage roared forth. ‘I am surprised, Nurse Busby, that you are such a poor judge of character. That woman is pure evil, a regular Jezebel. She set up poor Chad at the hospital to take the blame for her embezzlement of funds and caused him to be fired. Then that shameless woman denied him access to their joint funds, leaving him penniless. Why he had to go to America to find work because she and her corporate protectors ruined him in this country. He desperately needed to return to the UK so he could care for his elderly mother when those lies surfaced again. He is innocent. I had hoped he could have a second chance to redeem his reputation here, but your ineptness and carelessness prevented that from happening. He’s destitute and can’t even afford a lawyer to fight these bogus charges. I do hope your friend, Miss Mount, is satisfied with herself. May she burn in hell. This error in judgment will be reflected in your evaluation. That is all Colonel Busby.’

Delia slowly stood up, saluted, bowed her head in stunned silence and left the room as quickly as she could. Oh my God, what just happened, Delia thought as she walked to her office in disbelief of what had just transpired. She was in no position to defend Patsy’s honor, and it would not have mattered if she could; Colonel Houston’s mind had been poisoned by that sociopath, Chad, and no amount of truth serum would change it. It was obvious that this woman was out of control and unfit to be in the position she occupied, but what to do about it? She couldn’t tell General Thompson the facts of what happened with Chad, and how she instigated it, that would mean the end of her career, she would be relieved of her duties on the spot and sent packing. It might even jeopardize his trial, and the bastard would get off scot free again.

This unexpected encounter with Colonel Houston temporarily overshadowed her broken heart, and she momentarily forgot the pain of her emptiness.

During an extremely hard and fast run, the fog cleared and it was crystal clear that she was totally and thoroughly screwed, her career was ruined and her hopes of reconciliation with Patsy forever doomed. She might as well start planning life without either.