Be Careful What You Wish For–Part 2

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“What’s wrong? Is she hurt?” Dr. Scott asked immediately, setting down his bag and going toward them.

Ellis shook his blond head. “No sir, Dr. Tim. She said she didn’t feel good. Her throat hurts and she’s achy, so I said I’d bring her up here.”

Right on cue, Maggie began to cough. It was an odd, barking sound, and strangely familiar to Josie’s ear. I’ve heard that before. Recently. But where?

Dr. Scott’s face instantly went pale. He recognizes it, Josie realized with sudden foreboding.

“It’s probably just a cold, but I’ll take a look at her, just to be sure,” he said with that forced cheerfulness adults get around children. Snatching up his doctor’s bag in one hand, he reached for Maggie with the other arm, but she burrowed her face deeper into her brother’s neck and clutched him tighter. “Would you carry her, Ellis? It looks like Maggie would prefer you to stay with her.”

Ellis nodded without hesitation and started up the stairs, still comforting his sister as they went. Josie wasn’t surprised to see that—of all the boys in her extended family, Ellis seemed to care the most about others. Hopefully that’s not a commentary on the rest of us, considering he’s adopted, she thought wryly.

“I’m coming too,” Gran announced.

“No,” Dr. Scott said promptly. “Wait there until I call you.”

Gran stopped with one small foot on a stair tread and frowned. “You suspect something, don’t you?”

He didn’t answer.

“Timothy Davis Scott, what aren’t you telling me?”

There was still no reply and Josie thought her grandmother growled something in Gaelic. “I’m going to send for the boys. They’ll need to get cleaned up before supper anyway,” she muttered as she headed out the still-open door. “Wait here in case he needs something.”

Gran had returned and was pacing the wood floor impatiently when the doctor’s voice drifted down the stairwell. “Caro? Would you please come up now?”

She made a beeline up the stairs; Josie followed more slowly, drawn up by an inexplicable need to know, but unsure whether she’d be asked to leave or not. Doctor Scott was waiting outside the big bedroom Maggie shared with her parents, casually blocking its entrance. At Gran’s questioning look, he said, “I’ve already put her to bed. Ellis is sitting with her.” His voice was as calm and steady as always as he asked, “Has anyone been sick lately that she might have had contact with? Any friends?”

“No, not that I know of,” Gran started to say.

Josie broke in: “There was a little girl in Maggie’s Sunday school class last week.” Both looked at her expectantly. “She was coughing like that when I picked Maggie up. I didn’t recognize her or her family. They may have been new to the area or just visiting.”

She thought the doctor muttered an oath, but all he said aloud was, “Where are the rest of the children?”

“They were down at the creek. I sent the dogs after them not too long ago. Why? What does she have?” Gran demanded, trying to sidle around him and into the room. He stepped in front of her.

“Diphtheria. I have to assume you’ve all been exposed,” he said bluntly.

Diphtheria. Josie felt the floor shift beneath her feet at the word and she closed her eyes, suddenly dizzy. She could barely hear her grandmother whisper “A Mhaighdean” over the sound that filled her memory: Mama, weeping as though she’d never stop.

“Are you quite certain? It is summer, and I thought diphtheria was more prevalent in the winter and spring.” Gran seemed to be grasping at straws.

“Unfortunately, I’m quite certain—I’ve dealt with it far too many times before.” Then the doctor’s voice broke through Josie’s muddled thoughts. “Do you need to sit down, Miss Josephine?”

Now is not the time for dramatics of any sort, she ordered herself fiercely. Taking a quick breath, she steadied herself and opened her eyes to meet his worried gaze.

“My siblings and I have had diphtheria before,” she said very quietly. “But I don’t think my cousins have.”

Gran was shaking her head. “No, they’ve not, and neither have I. I believe Sam has, but even if he hasn’t, Maggie hasn’t been in to see him all week.”

“Three of you with some immunity is a good thing, but I’m afraid the whole house is now under quarantine, myself included.”

“What do you need us to do?”

“Maggie has had it several days already—her tonsils are already speckled. Ellis is showing some symptoms as well. That’s why I left him in there with her. I’m assuming all of her other brothers will come down with it within a day or so. Until they present, they can stay in their own rooms. Once they feel the least bit ill, I want them all together. It’ll be easier to keep an eye on them that way. The big bedroom will work best as the sickroom. The rest of you should stay downstairs as much as possible.” He paused as if thinking, then added soberly, “I hate to ask it of you, Caro, but I’m going to need another set of adult hands up here, and you’re the only one available.”

“Of course,” she said immediately, though her voice trembled a little.

Josie took in her grandmother’s too-pale face. She’s afraid, she realized. And with good reason. At her age, diphtheria could kill her. Impulsively she blurted out, “Let me help instead.”

Their twin looks of shock stung. I doubt they’d be so surprised if Katja had been the one volunteering.

“You?” The doctor’s tone was incredulous, almost reproachful. “This is no time for games, Josephine. You can’t—” he began.

Her shame solidified her resolve and she interrupted him, voice quiet and stubborn. “I have had it before; Gran has not. Therefore, she should be the one to remain downstairs to care for the others and for Grandda, and I should be the one to stay and help you.”

“Well, yes, but this isn’t going to be easy or pleasant.”

She straightened. “I know. I’ve assisted Mama in the sickroom before, and those times were not easy or pleasant either. However, I did fine then and I will do just fine now.” Their faces still showed disbelief; she gathered herself to Lean on the both of them if they started to argue more. Papa said I could use my Gift in an emergency. I would think this certainly counts as one. Thankfully, neither protested further.

 

Tim was still trying to process this unexpected turn of events, so he merely nodded at Josie’s final declaration. “Very well,” he said. “Caro, you explain the situation to the boys. Try not to get too close to them though. And send Jeb—he’s had it before, yes? Good. Send Jeb with a message to my office. My assistant will inform my other patients that I will unfortunately be detained here for the time being.”

Caro bobbed her head, whirled about, and darted for the stairs. Careful, he nearly shouted after her. I can’t care for another patient right now.

Then he was left standing alone with Josephine Black. Suddenly the dim hall seemed much narrower and closed-in.

“What do you want me to do first?” she asked calmly.

The heady scent of vanilla that he always associated with her made it difficult to focus. Finally he managed to say, “Decide what you’ll need for the next week to ten days. If it’s not already upstairs, go get it. Just remember: anything that comes into the sickroom must be boiled or otherwise disinfected afterwards.” His tone came out far harsher than he intended. Softening his voice, he asked, “Which room is yours?”

She pointed to the next door over. “That one. Katja’s old room.”

“Perfect. I’ll be sleeping in the sickroom, but it’d be better if you did not. Just in case—having had diphtheria in the past doesn’t always guarantee future immunity.” Her face grew even paler at his warning. That’s what I thought. It was a brave offer, but you don’t have the grit to see this through. “It’s not too late to change your mind,” he said gently. “Your grandmother and I will understand.”

The rosebud lips thinned and the round little chin rose hardened; Tim had worked with Starla Anderson Black often enough that he could recognize her unrelenting stubbornness in her daughter’s exquisite features.

“No.” She easily looked him in the eye. “I realize you see me as the weakest and flightiest of females, Dr. Scott, but just because I prefer laughing and having fun to being serious all the time does not mean I am incapable of handling difficult situations. I can and I will do this. My knitting is downstairs, but that is all that I should need up here as I’ll be plenty busy with other things. I’ll be back in just a few minutes. Then I’ll change into something more suitable for nursing work and be ready for whatever you need me to do next.” She gave him a curt nod, then headed toward the stairwell.

Without thinking he called after her, “Josephine?” She turned, looked at him with a questioning brow. “Thank you. I really do appreciate your willingness to help.”

A hesitation, then a delicate wash of pink spread across her cheeks. Her answering smile was unusually free of artifice, and even more attractive for it. “You’re welcome,” she said softly, then pattered down the stairs.

Tim remained where he was, staring blankly the way she had gone, his mind and heart racing.

Although he’d known Josephine Black since she was born, it wasn’t until much later that they’d become not just family friends but “gooder” friends, in her words. It’d been one afternoon shortly after he’d turned twelve and she five. He’d arrived at Black Forest to find her crying on the front steps, a broken doll clutched tight in her tiny dimpled hands.

“What’s wrong, Josie?”

“Ellie’s got a broken leg and Mama says she can’t fix it ’cuz she’s no good with broke stuff.”

“Well, I’m already training to be a doctor, and Dr. Phelps has been showing me lots. You want me to take a look at that leg?”

He’d always been aware of how enchanting she could be, but had never really seen the promise of beauty to come: there were eight years between them, after all. A huge difference at that age. It was only natural to forget about the little girl back home while studying in Boston and overseas.

But while he was away, the butterfly-bright child had matured into a breathtakingly beautiful young woman. When he’d seen her again at his welcome home party, he’d found himself unable to keep his eyes and mind off her, both at the party and afterward.

To his great dismay, however, her view of relationships remained very immature. She’d flit from boy to boy, breaking heart after heart, and had no time or consideration for old friends, not even gooder ones. Every time he interacted with her, Tim came away disappointed—in her, and in himself. Why on earth am I still so attracted to someone so shallow and self-centered?

Now, though, for the first time since he’d returned, her words and actions made him think that maybe, just maybe, Josie Black might actually be growing up.

He shook his head at such untimely thoughts. Focus, he berated himself. You’ve got patients depending on you and you can’t afford to be distracted. Burying his personal feelings, he turned and re‑entered the sickroom.

 

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