Lucien sighs a frustrated sigh and Jean cannot help but roll her eyes. Two weeks of this and she isn’t sure how much more she can take.
She’s trying her best to be patient and understanding. Have patience for the fact that Lucien has just recently arrived. Understanding that he’s a doctor and she, a nurse. That he’s used to commanding men around in an army, not deferring to a woman in a house that used to be his, but probably now feels more foreign than his international stations. It niggles in her gut that he’s back in this unusual circumstance because of his father’s failing health.
For all that, Jean can be patient.
“Right, then I’ll look after the H through Z’s and you can take the A through-”
This, she has no patience for.
“That simply won’t do, Doctor Blake.”
“Lucien,” he mutters. He must feel her exasperation because he doesn’t even meet her eye. “As I’ve said before, it might be easier, given…so as not to confuse… just, call me Lucien.”
“And as I’ve said, we cannot divide the patients without thought, what will you do if one the Thompson boys fall ill?”
They lock eyes over his father’s desk.
Jean tries to school the irritation she knows is so clearly written on her face. ‘I can read you like a book, Jean’, that’s what Christopher had always said. And though she’d learned to temper the emotion she had as a young woman, something about Lucien makes her feel nineteen and ready to fight the world again. Besides, Lucien seems about ready to push her out the door, or worse, leave through it himself.
She really does need the help, so she takes a deep breath and says, “Fine, Doctor. A to G.”
She sticks her hand straight across the desk, and Lucien looks startled.
With a smirk, he shakes her hand.
In the end the Thompson's, two nervous boys that had taken months to calm enough for routine exams, aren’t the ones to cause the first bouts of trouble. It’s the Smith girl and her tantrums, that even her mother doesn’t seem able to deal with. It’s Susan Fischer, who Lucien sends home with a smile and a tonic and without answers to the questions he didn’t know he needed to ask.
In the end, it’s Jean that calls her back for another appointment as she steps out the door. It’s Jean who sways the girl to sit still long enough to find out she need antibiotics. It’s Jean who was right and doesn’t say anything pointed to young doctor Blake, but feels the tension and then relief in the room every time she’s there to fix a problem.
His quiet ‘thank you’s’ are answered with a tilt of her head and a tight-lipped smile. If she turns from his office with a more satisfied spring in her step than usual it’s because her patients got the treatment they deserved (and a tiny bit of satisfaction at being right).
“Actually, Doctor, I’ve been giving him peppermint tea in the morning and in the afternoon and I’ve found it to ease the pain.”
“It’s not enough, though, Jean.” He shakes his head and she can see the worry in his eyes. “If he won’t take the medication…”
“He will, you just need to trust me.”
Lucien looks at her fully. And with a surprisingly strong urge, Jean almost reaches across the desk to cup his cheek. His look is one of a lost boy, a familiar reflection she’d seen in her sons. It’s a look he’s had more often as Thomas has been more confined to his bed, the reality of what’s to come churning fear in the back of their minds.
“Oh, alright.” Despite himself, he tries to smile. After four weeks of living, working, fighting with this man, she knows it’s just a way to hide what he’s really feeling. “But if he doesn’t take it within the next hour…”
“He’ll have to wait until morning.”
“Yes. And don’t let him-”
“Dip into the whiskey. I am a nurse, or have you forgotten?”
Ignoring her last comment Lucien continues, “I doubt it will be necessary, the way he carried on earlier, I cannot fathom it will be possible anyhow.”
With an arch of her eyebrow, hands firmly planted on her hips, Jean leaves the office saying nothing.
She returns five minutes later, setting the whiskey bottle on the desk with a clink.
Jean turns to walk away, but doesn’t leave the doorway without first noticing Lucien’s grin. After four weeks she knows this one too: pure delight.
Things take a turn only two days later. Thomas can barely speak now, though he spends most of the day asleep or in a haze too thick to do anything more than take small sips of tea from the cup Jean holds to his lips.
It’s been inevitable, Jean knows that. Has known since she brought him home from the hospital all those weeks ago, that the final day was coming. And even after all the heartache and loss she’s experienced in her short life, the thought of it does nothing but hurt.
Thomas was, is, a dear man who gave her a second chance at a dream she had held a lifetime ago. A man who gave her a home when she was feeling desperately alone in the world. She fears that feeling will come again after he’s gone. Knowing how it was before she resided in this house only adds to the ache, the darkness she feels pressing in around her already.
She won’t really be alone when the end comes. Though the last two days, she’s scarcely seen Lucien. But Jean has carried on like she always does, like she always has- making Thomas comfortable, referring patients to other doctors for the next few weeks, seeing to the housework as much as she can.
If she had a chance to pause she’d realize she’s run herself ragged. And while she does so for Thomas without question, gladly even, she can’t help but recoil with anger every time an empty liquor bottle appears in the office bin. She can’t help but wonder why she’s the only one falling asleep in a chair next to Thomas’s bed, how nice it would be for someone to bring her a cup of tea for a change.
It’s on her way to make said tea, at some early hour, when she literally bumps into Lucien in the hall.
“Jean! I do beg your pardon.”
“What are you doing?”
“I was just- I wanted to check, but well…” Lucien stammers tiredly, but then looks at her with alertness, eyes darting from her to the bedroom door behind her, “is everything alright?”
“Yes, yes. I was just getting some tea.”
Lucien exhales soundly, but doesn’t take his eyes away from the door.
“Doctor Blake is sleeping peacefully, for now.” Jean informs him, although he doesn’t ask her in the first place. In fact, he flinches at the mention of his father’s name.
“Would you like some tea? Perhaps you can make it while I sit with him?”
Lucien meets her eye for the first time since exchanging whispered words in the darkened hallway, a fear evident there that Jean can hardly bear to look at.
“No, no thank you. I’ll leave you to it.”
A watery smile is all he leaves in his departure. And in this moment, Jean forgives every missed opportunity for his help, every clink of glass she hears down the hall, every quiet, forlorn look when words are needed in the oppressive silence. For she knows what is to grieve-a parent, a partner, a child. Knows that every heartache garners a different response. It’s just a reaction of the nervous system, her nurse training reminds her, a fight or flight response.
She would much rather fight over mundane things like patient note keeping techniques than continue to watch the light dim in eyes, however.
When he takes his final breath, it’s with his son holding his hand.
Jean knows Lucien would think her foolish to say so, but she believes Thomas was holding on for one final goodbye. Lucien would say something about coincidence and the statistics of a heart attack, but Jean knows there’s little comfort in science and medicine when someone is taken from you. Any other week they would fight about it, science versus faith, believing versus seeing, like they have so many times before. But right now, Jean barely has the energy to feel tired, while Lucien paces the house an empty shell of himself.
She carries on, as she always does. Jean extends the help of the locum another week, as its clear Lucien won’t be in any shape to see patients soon. Besides, she has too much to arrange, leaving her little time to be his nurse or his receptionist. She’s too busy being his housekeeper and care taker-doing the things that should be the responsibility of the son but somehow fall on her shoulders.
She’s exhausted, and irritable, on top of feeling bouts of utter sadness. She’s an amalgam of emotion, when she’s not feeling completely numb.
“Which will it be then?” her voice rises more than she wishes.
“It hardly matters.” Lucien can’t even be bothered to meet her eye for this conversation it seems, and Jean is feeling little patience for these words to begin with. “I’ll leave it to you.”
“Actually, Doctor, it does quite matter.” Still he stares at his newspaper, or file, or whatever piece of paper occupies the mess of the kitchen table and not her eyes. “And it should be for you to decide, he’s your father.”
“Was my father,” Lucien mutters so that Jean barely registers what he’s said by the time he speaks again. “But what does that matter now?”
In the back of her mind, Jean is glad to finally see the Lucien she’s known come to life. A flicker of a spark, a shine in his eyes. It’s not enough to quell her irritation at his attitude, however.
“It would be important to him! This does matter, and just because you’re too stubborn to-”
“And why should I care what he cared about?” He slams his fist into the table and Jean jumps. “He bloody well didn’t care what mattered to me!”
He must see the startled look on her face, for it has him cowering back into himself like a spooked dog. There’s a lengthy silence before he speaks again. “Whatever you want will be fine.”
She’s gone from the room before she can begin to think any less of him.
On the first night that she sleeps long and deep enough to dream, Jean wakes with a start, her heart beating fast and her breathing quick. Unable to remember what put her in this state, she makes her way downstairs in rote memory, a familiar routine she hopes will bring her racing heart back to normal.
She puts the kettle on and goes to check on Thomas. She doesn’t remember until she pushes open the door and for the first time in the weeks since the beginning of this downward spiral, she breaks.
She’s crouched on the floor, hand over her mouth, forehead resting on her knees and she lets herself really feel. It’s overwhelming and relieving at the same time. She doesn’t know how long she’s been sitting there, her body squeezed to the wall, when she feels a warm, heavy hand on her shoulder.
The weight of it moves down to the center of her back and for a moment it only makes her sob harder, a comfort she didn’t know she craved.
“Come now, Jean,” Lucien whispers. It’s a quiet and steady voice, not unlike how he speaks to his patients, but gentler somehow. “Take a deep breath.”
His palm stays solid against her back, urging her lungs to expand. On her second exhale, her senses slowly return. She sees his eyes darting across her face, analysis and sympathy all in one look, and hears the scream of the kettle next.
“Oh, dear,” she chokes. She sits up as if the go the kitchen, but Lucien stops her with a hand on her shoulder.
She’s wiped her face and run her fingers through her hair by the time he comes back, but she stays seated on the floor.
His grin as he hands her a cup of tea confuses her enough to speak, “What’s gotten into you?”
“That might be the first time you’ve followed orders from me without question.”
Jean gives a small chuckle before she can contain it.
She takes a sip of her tea and can’t help but recoil slightly. He's added far too many sugars.
She doesn’t notice he’s sat next to her until he speaks again. “I am sorry, Jean.”
“Whatever for?” she’s genuinely confused.
“For how I’ve been acting. Especially lately. You’ve been completely lovely and I’ve-”
Jean scoffs, “We both know that isn’t exactly true, is it, Doctor?”
“It is true. And ever since I’ve come back… it’s been… it’s complicated, but it shouldn’t affect our relation-, our professional relationship, that is.”
She won’t deny what he says isn’t true, and part of her is surprised he’s willing to admit it. “It’s quite understandable though. You’ve just lost your father. It takes some time to feel normal again, part of you never really does.”
“But that’s what makes it even worse!”
In their shoulder to shoulder position, Jean awkwardly turns to look at him then, “How so?”
“You’re grieving and I’ve all but ignored that fact. You’ve been marvelous, really, making arrangement, looking after this bloody old house, looking after me.” A tear slips down her cheek then and she feels the pad of his finger wipe it away. Her eyes are closed tight, to stem the tears she tells herself, but to fight the feelings pushing their way to the surface. “But you’ve lost him, too.”
She exhales a shaken breath and their foreheads come to rest together. His fingers wrap around her elbow where it’s bent awkwardly between their bodies, but Jean can’t let go of her tight grip on her cup and saucer.
The next few tears he captures with his lips, a kiss on her cheek that is somehow everything and not nearly enough.
She feels his smile on her skin.
They pull apart slowly. Lucien’s smiling, but he’s nervous. She can see it in the wideness of his eyes, the ever so slight tightening of his lips.
“Yes, Nurse Beazley?”
It makes her laugh, despite herself. She also rolls her eyes for good measure. Then, before she can stop to overthink, she leans forward and presses her lips softly into his. Later, she’ll tease him and say that he forced her to kiss him first in order to keep him silent. But in the moment she has, for the first time in a very long time, a quieted mind and a comforted heart.
“I’m not quite finished.”
“Yes, but if you drill the hole in the wrong place it won’t be easily refilled.”
“Good, so straighten it out before my post starts to resemble a sponge.”
“How about I move it and you tell me when it’s straight?”
“If you’d only gotten the level…”
“I couldn’t find it. Now see, Jean, that looks nice doesn’t it?”
“Nearly, now if you just-”
Jean and Lucien turn their heads and speak at the same time, “Yes?”
“Sorry,” the young woman says. “In town they said a doctor lives this way?”
“That’s right,” Lucien says. And with a wink toward Jean adds, “and a nurse.”
The girl looks about to cry. Jean walks gently towards her and touches her elbow. “Do you need help? Why don’t you follow me into the house?”
She’s halfway up the drive when she turns to see Lucien finishing up with his screwdriver. He’d insisted on putting it up as soon it came in the post. She can’t deny, it gave her a skip in her step-seeing their names, ‘Blake & Blake’, with their medical titles neatly engraved in the gold plate, hanging proudly in front of their home.
“Lucien? A pot of tea wouldn’t go amiss.”