Authors: Lucy Clark
Sean chuckled and reached out to put a hand on Jane’s shoulder. ‘It’s fine, Jane. I understand you need a bit of time to mentally prepare yourself. So...Friday? You can come with me to pick him up from his drum lesson.’
‘He plays the drums?’ Jane’s earlier panic disappeared and she smiled brightly. ‘I’ve always wanted to learn.’
‘Perhaps he can teach you a thing or two although at the moment it’s more a matter of him trying to gain some upper-body strength in his little almost-seven-year-old arms.’ Sean laughed.
‘That’s fantastic. I’d love to hear him play.’
‘Oh, you’ll get the chance. One basic beat after the other. He loves to practise, although I’m not sure my parents or the rest of the neighbourhood are all that happy about it.’
‘They live with us.’
Sean nodded as they continued to browse around the toy store. ‘It’s the only way I can work at the hospital, be available at all hours of the day and night and still give Spencer the relatively normal upbringing he deserves. We converted a house into two apartments. One upstairs, one downstairs.’
‘Sounds ideal. What time does his drum lesson finish?’
‘Five-thirty. You don’t have a car, do you?’
‘OK. We both have clinic on Friday afternoon so, once we’re finished, I’ll take you to meet my son.’
Sean nodded with finality as though the deal was done. Jane swallowed as the realisation sank in. She was going to meet Spencer. It was happening. Things were working out as planned, instead of going pear-shaped, like they usually did, especially when it came to her private life. Spencer. She’d loved him ever since she’d been aware of him and now she was finally going to meet him...in two days’ time!
Should she get him a present for when they first met? A sort of a ‘Hello. How are you?’ present? Was that crass? Perhaps she should buy some sweets or take some cake but she had no idea if Spencer had any food allergies. What about a book? Should she get him a book? Her mind went into overdrive as she walked around the store, settling in front of the music section and looking at all the different types of drumsticks available.
‘I should get him a present for Friday,’ she stated, taking a pair of drumsticks off the shelf.
‘He doesn’t need presents, Jane. He’s already spoilt enough.’ Sean took the sticks from her and put them back, before meeting her gaze. ‘Your presence will be present enough.’
His words were soft yet intense and the way he stared at her made her wonder if he, too, could feel this strange and overwhelming tug of desire that seemed to exist between them. How? Why? She didn’t understand how it was possible for her to be so attracted to Sean. The man had been married to her sister and—
No. That was in the past. The past couldn’t be changed. The past was irrelevant. She’d trained her mental thought processes to stop looking back, to seek out the future but also not to miss the present...and at the present moment she couldn’t deny the way Sean’s intense gaze was making her feel.
She needed to say something to break the moment, to try and remember how to breathe again. ‘OK,’ she murmured, and forced herself to blink, to turn away and head to the rear of the store, where a model train was presently manoeuvring its way around the track.
Jane stopped, staring at a doll on the shelf in the back corner of the store. She frowned as memories flooded through, unbidden. A moment later Sean joined her and casually pointed to the doll.
‘Now I know you like to buy Spencer different presents for his birthday but I know for a fact that dolls just aren’t his thing.’
‘I used to have one of these.’ Jane reached out her hand, belatedly realising she was trembling a little, and picked up the boxed doll. ‘If you pressed her belly button and gently pulled on the hair, the hair would grow. At the back, there was a winder to crank the hair back inside.’ Jane trailed her fingers down the plastic packaging of the box. ‘Mine was called Cinnamon.’
‘You don’t still have the doll?’
‘No.’ Jane sighed. ‘Daina had one of her tantrums—I can’t remember what it was all about—only that she was so mad she punished me by cutting off all of Cinnamon’s hair so it didn’t grow or shrink any more. I was upset but I could still play with the doll. However, a few weeks later, when she realised I hadn’t abandoned the wrecked doll, she took it and hid it. I looked everywhere and then three weeks after Cinnamon had gone missing I found the doll all over my bedroom floor, in pieces.’
‘How old were you?’ Sean had listened to the way she’d spoken, so calm and controlled, as though she was reliving the memory of someone else.
‘What did your parents say?’
Jane slowly shook her head. ‘They didn’t know. I learned at a very early age that if I attempted to involve my parents when Daina acted out, the retribution was ten times worse.’
‘She hit you?’
‘No. She never laid a finger on me. She had other ways of making my life miserable.’ Jane put the doll back on the shelf then walked away.
They continued to look around the store until Jane picked up a little torch that had small covers you could put over the light, causing it to make different shapes on the wall. Without a word, she headed to the register to make her purchase, asking them to gift wrap it for her.
‘I’d best head back to the hospital. There are some case studies I’d like to read before the meeting about Tessa.’
‘Of course.’ They walked back to the hospital, both lost in their own thoughts but also quite comfortable with the silence. It was odd to feel so comfortable with Sean but perhaps, now that she had an answer to her question, now that she’d been granted access to Spencer, the previous tension she’d felt between the two of them had disappeared. No. Not disappeared...changed. She pushed the thought away, knowing she’d give it due consideration later when he wasn’t affecting her senses as much as he was doing now.
‘Regarding Tessa,’ Sean said after a while, swatting away another fly as they drew closer to the hospital, ‘she’s being abused, isn’t she?’
‘There’s always a reason why kids don’t eat and it’s usually the biggest cry for help they can give us doctors. Besides, there are many different forms of abuse. It’s just figuring out which one.’
‘You obviously have an idea what might be happening.’
‘I have a theory but I don’t want to say anything until there’s further proof.’
‘It’s good to know you follow your instincts. It can be a doctor’s most valuable tool.’
‘I’m glad to hear you think that way,’ she said, turning to smile up at him. Again, Sean was struck by how lovely she was, how real, how natural.
When they entered the building, they both sighed with relief at being surrounded by the air-conditioning. Jane headed to the ward and found the medical students seated at the nurses’ station, the notepads in front of them filled with different observations and notes. Jane stopped and spoke with them for a moment before she went over to where Tessa was sitting up in her bed, reading a book.
Sean stayed where he was, watching closely as Tessa’s expression seemed to soften when she saw Jane. He’d never noticed Tessa do that with anyone else. He checked the notes the nurses had written, noticing that Tessa hadn’t eaten anything all day but, thankfully, hadn’t made any attempt to pull out her drip, as she had once before.
There was a gasp of surprise and he looked over to see Tessa’s big eyes widen as she opened the present from Jane. Within another minute she’d flicked the torch on and off several times, discovering that if she turned the rim, the light would change colour. She put the different covers over the bulb, testing each one, clearly enthralled with the gift. Then she put it down on the bedside table and shook her head. Sean edged closer, wanting to hear what Jane was saying to the girl.
‘There are no strings attached,’ she told Tessa softly. ‘I know what it’s like to accept a gift from someone who later demands payment—often a payment that’s too high for you to give.’
Tessa watched Jane for a moment then asked, ‘Who hurt you?’
The colour instantly drained from Jane’s face and Sean watched as she bit her lip and swallowed three times before answering. ‘My big sister.’
‘Where is she now?’
‘Did you kill her?’
‘No. She was in a car crash.’
‘I wish my sister was in a car crash.’ The words were out of Tessa’s mouth before she could stop them and she quickly covered her mouth with her hands, her eyes wide and wild with fear. ‘Don’t tell anyone. Don’t say anything.’ Her pleading was an urgent whisper.
Jane looked directly at Sean and it was only then he realised she’d known he was there the whole time. Had she just said all of that to Tessa in order to get the little girl to confess? To let them know exactly who was hurting her? This information would certainly help the medical students to hone their observation skills now they knew exactly what they were looking for.
‘I’ll come back and see you later tonight,’ Jane promised, before pointing to the torch. ‘There are no strings attached to this gift, Tessa. It’s just something to help you not to be so afraid of the night.’
‘How did you know it was her sister?’ Sean asked Jane as they re-entered the nurses’ station.
‘I didn’t, but sometimes sharing your own stories with these kids, to let them know you really do understand what they’re going through, even though the circumstances of the abuse might differ, is an important step in forming a connection. I’ve chosen to utilise the bad things that have happened to me throughout my life in order to help me bond with my patients, because when eating disorders are involved, it’s been proved through extensive research that if a true connection can be made between doctor and patient, there’s far more opportunity for a successful recovery.’
‘That must be very draining for you.’
Jane shrugged. ‘It helps abate the loneliness.’ She spoke to the medical students, asking them if Tessa’s sister had come in to visit and to highlight those sections when they gave their report. ‘I need to prepare for the meeting,’ she murmured, and Sean nodded, still reeling from everything he’d learnt about her today.
As she walked away, he couldn’t help thinking back to the things Daina had said about her younger sister. It wasn’t that she’d talked about Jane or her parents much at all, but if she had had something to say, it had always shown
in the best light, to ensure he was left with a positive opinion of her.
‘I took Jane in.’ He could hear Daina’s voice in his head. ‘I was only eighteen when our parents died but I was there for Janey throughout her time in hospital and I cared for her, stepping up and being her legal guardian to ensure she wasn’t put into the foster system. It wasn’t easy. I was grieving for our parents and looking after a confused teenager who was terribly sick, both physically and mentally. It was tiring and exhausting but I managed, by the grace of God, to get us through that difficult time.’ And of course every word Daina had spoken had been delivered with the dramatic flair of an award-winning actress, oftentimes with tears.
As he returned to his office to try and once more distract his mind with paperwork, he instead found himself looking Jane up on the internet. Surprisingly, he was able to access several of the papers she’d co-authored with Professor Robe and soon he was reading his way through them. He shook his head in stunned amazement. Jane was clearly an expert in her field, as well as being incredibly intelligent and sensitive. The hospital had been right to head-hunt and secure her professional services for twelve months.
Twelve months. She’d been here for one already. Eleven months of her getting to know Spencer, and of spending more time with her away from the hospital. Sean couldn’t deny the delight he felt at that thought. He would brush away everything he could remember Daina saying about her sister and start afresh.
‘A clean slate,’ he told his cramped office. ‘For both of us.’
HE MEETING ABOUT
Tessa went well, with the medical students able to provide data about Tessa’s behaviour when her parents came to visit, bringing her older and younger siblings with them.
‘She was fine with the toddler,’ one medical student reported. ‘Pulling him onto her bed and hugging him close.’
‘She wants to protect him,’ Jane murmured. ‘And the older sibling?’
‘The older daughter, who is approximately nine or ten years of age, was almost...’ The medical students looked at each other, both a little unsure.
‘Go on,’ Jane encouraged.
‘Well, she wasn’t mean at all. In fact, she was really nice to Tessa. She’d even brought Tessa in a present and was making Tessa laugh.’
Jane clenched her jaw and tried to keep her own feelings under control. ‘Passive aggressive,’ was all she said.
‘But Tessa was laughing,’ one of the students said, completely perplexed.
‘No. Tessa was playing the part she needs to play in order to protect herself and her baby brother.’ Jane looked at the data provided by the students. ‘See here?’ she said, pointing to an entry made half an hour after Tessa’s family had left. ‘She went to the toilet then went back to her bed, curling up small and almost hiding beneath the covers.’
‘Do you think she was trying to vomit in the toilets?’ Sean asked.
‘Trying to purge herself of the way she was feeling? Yes. At the moment the drip is keeping her fluids up and the antibiotics are treating her urinary tract infection but the act of physically trying to purge the negative emotions is quite common in such cases.’ Jane picked up the articles she’d photocopied and handed them around to the dietician, social worker and nurses also attending the meeting.
As Jane continued to point out different case studies, Sean listened with half an ear, admiring the way she understood not only the psychological but physical implications of what her patients were going through. Did that mean that Jane herself had suffered from an eating disorder as a young child? Had Daina’s bullying caused Jane to try and purge the negative emotions from her body? Was that why she wore such loose-fitting clothing? Did she still suffer from an eating disorder?