Till Death Do Us Part
By Kristine and Richard
Part One Hundred and Eighty One
While Yvonne drove them down the road, Karen slumped back in the comfortable passenger seat. She had operated on sheer adrenaline, which had focused her concentration to deal with the emergency. Now that the situation had been dealt with, waves of tiredness started to flow through her. It was as if she had been living some dream, and she was starting to feel temporarily removed from the situation. She didn't want to consider the rights and wrongs of the situation right now. All she wanted to do was to let herself be driven wherever the car would take her. She felt the headrest take the weight of her tiredness and she watched the familiar profile of Yvonne's face. Everything was comfortable and, for the first time, she remembered the familiar presence of Yvonne's red Ferrari. It had escaped her attention earlier on. She never thought to give Yvonne directions and hazily assumed , quite rightly that Yvonne would know the way.
Karen fumbled with the house key and let them into the flat. After clicking on the lights, Yvonne's eyes took in the familiar appearance of Karen's flat. It stirred up memories, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope but it reminded Yvonne that they had never lost their friendship. Rather than conjuring up any feelings of hurt and of lost love, it welcomed Yvonne into a haven where it was right for her to stay.
"Do you want a drink, Yvonne?" Karen offered.
"If you're having a drink, I'd love a large scotch."
"I'll join you."
"I'll fetch the drinks if you want, Karen. You look about done in."
While Karen lay back in her chair, Yvonne poured out generous measures into glasses and passed Karen's drink to her. While Yvonne had been pottering about, serious doubts started to invade her mind as to the wisdom of her actions. She had clicked into action earlier on with the fixed purpose of saving Jo's life and career but that other side of her had started to haunt her. This was the nurse and prison officer who had spent long years in working by organizational rules and more recently, laying them down on others.
"What's up, Karen? You've just played an absolute blinder in saving Jo's neck and you look as if you're regretting it."
"That's just it, Yvonne. By rights, Jo should have been admitted to hospital when I first got the call. It goes against my instincts to take very dangerous risks with another human being's life
"If you had whipped her into hospital, what would have happened to Jo?"
"A proper medical team would have dealt with her instead of a one time nurse with a couple of untrained assistants , a doctor on the other end of a phone and a lot of nerve and sheer luck."
"So would they have done any better than we did, wouldn't they?"
"They wouldn't have taken such risks and there would have been everything on hand if anything went wrong."
"And would that have been the end of it? They would have let her go home, say there there, and hope you get better? Are you telling me this one, Karen?" Yvonne persisted. It seemed to Yvonne's mind that Karen felt that she ought to beat herself up about the matter.
"Well, no," admitted Karen. The thought hadn't struck her.
"What do they do with women on the outside, who try to OD on a mixture of booze and sleepers, especially when they find out that there's a drink problem? You can't tell me that they'll risk being done for negligence in doing nothing?"
Karen visibly shuddered as Yvonne's blunt words brought back the horrific memories of when her son Ross had taken his life nearly a year ago. She had done her best to suppress that memory, right down into her unconscious where it was safer than in the cruel light of day. The image of the long, brutal gash on the inside of his wrist made her freeze in horror. Suddenly, tears sprang into her eyes. She pressed her fingers against them to blot out that horrible vision and so that no one could see that she was crying.
"I'm really sorry, Karen. I've been talking like a right cow. I just want to stick up for you, stop you thinking that you've done anything wrong, at least not where it matters. Just remember, the doctor was willing to go along with what we've done. He had his reasons and he's not stupid."
Yvonne saw in a flash where she had gone wrong. Her choked stream of works and her arm round her shoulders brought a sliver of comfort to Karen that she needed right now. By launching herself far away from the familiar trodden paths, and dragging the others along with her, she felt very vulnerable.
"You're not to blame. It's just that I freaked out from memories of what happened to Ross. Jo could so easily have gone the same way and I was playing God with her life. The thought of it scares me."
"Karen darling, Jo is alive thanks to you. We got there probably as quickly as an ambulance and we delivered the bacon. No one is going to know apart from me, a top notch barrister, a prison governor and a spot on prison doctor."
Karen was silent while Yvonne comforted her. It was true what Yvonne had said, and she started to work out in her mind if Jo had gone through the inflexible prescriptions of the local hospital. No one knew better than her.
"I really miss your blindingly simple ways of dealing with situations even if they are technically dodgy at times."
Karen's shaky laugh that accompanied her words aroused that tender protective feelings of Yvonne that she felt towards anyone who was hurting inside.
"Now that you've asked, I'd better explain what could have happened, Yvonne," Karen continued in more even clinical tones. "They would have put her on some kind of medication. It is an absolute certainty that Jo would have come under the spotlight of the resident psychiatrist who would have dredged out everything that caused Jo to act as she did. They would have worked their way round the defences of even a top barrister as Jo is, especially in her present frame of mind ."
Yvonne listened intently to Karen's deliberately clinical discourse. It all sounded suspiciously like the Muppet wing to her.
" .It isn't impossible that they would section her, oh for her own good," added Karen
with a touch of irony.
" .which means that she could kiss goodbye to her career. That is the one thing that will hold her together. Some care that is," added Yvonne in laconic tones.
Those brief word shifted Karen's perspective radically. The succession of events following Ross's death, her own recent self harm tendencies and her own struggles to keep her own head above water came back to her. This alternative scenario could have happened to her. Karen could not bear to even contemplate the possibilities of not working. It would make her die inside. For the first time a slow smile spread across her face. The discussion had raised problems of how Jo would be able to get back on her feet but at least the choices were wholly Jo's. They would take their time and place in the future that Jo had tried to deny to herself.
"Thank you, Yvonne." Karen said simply.
"It's a long time since we've spent any real time together, Karen." Yvonne murmured in the dim lights. She sprawled out on the settee as the scotch started to make her head swim in a very pleasant way. Karen lay stretched out in her armchair, her feet resting on a small footstool. The soft lights and the peaceful world inside were accompanied by a Tori Amos CD, spreading her sensuous tones round the flat. It was perfect chill out music to accompany the evening and brought back sweet memories. The two of them felt as if the evening would float on indefinitely.
"You don't still blame me for breaking up with you years ago, Yvonne?" Karen suddenly asked out of nowhere while they had been indulging in the idle small talk.
"You did what you had to do, Karen. I ain't got any regrets but I remember how good it was between the two of us. You were my first love."
Karen leant over and kissed her gently on the forehead. Somehow things were plain between the two of them as it should be for two close friends. It was later on that the two of them slipped into Karen's bed and settled down into bed. They were at peace with each other and their last thought before they drifted off to sleep was that they hoped that George and Jo were similarly blessed.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Two
After Karen and Yvonne had left, George made herself a cup of very strong coffee and walked back to the bedroom. At first glance, Jo looked to be asleep, but George had the distinct feeling that she wasn't. Sitting down in the armchair in the corner of the room, George was reminded of Karen's words, "Questions come tomorrow." Therefore, until tomorrow, George had to leave any initiative to talk up to Jo. Karen had also told her to keep an eye on Jo every couple of hours, but George was going to do better than that. She had so many thoughts buzzing round in her head, that she knew sleep was out of the question. So, she may as well keep an eye on Jo for the whole night. If she hadn't taken her bad feeling about Jo seriously, Jo would be dead now. She wasn't going to take her eyes off her for more than a few minutes at a time until she was absolutely sure that Jo was going to be okay. She shed some silent tears for how close they'd really come to losing Jo. George wasn't stupid, she knew just how much Karen had kept from them all, even Yvonne. If Jo's heartbeat had been allowed to get any slower, she really could have died.
"George," Jo said in to the silence. "Please don't cry."
"I thought you were asleep," Said George miserably.
"Hardly," Said Jo with a smile. "You're one of the loudest thinkers I've ever met. Your silence says so much it could wake the dead."
"That isn't funny," George said sternly.
"I know," Said Jo, thinking that she was becoming slightly hysterical. "Call it delayed shock."
"I'm not going to continue this conversation, Jo, or I'll start demanding explanations, and I promised Karen I wouldn't do that until she's seen you tomorrow. But I'm so furious with you," She ended in a tone of pain rather than one of anger. George stood up and made to walk out of the room, but Jo put out a hand to stop her.
"George, please don't go," She asked gently. George stopped at the end of the bed and looked at her.
"There's part of me," She said unsteadily, "That doesn't want to be anywhere near you because I could slap you for what you almost achieved tonight. But the rest of me doesn't want to let you out of my sight for even a second in case you try it again."
"I'm sorry," Said Jo quietly.
"Are you?" Asked George, the disbelief all too evident.
"Yes," Confirmed Jo. "The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you."
"And just what do you think killing yourself would have done?" George demanded. "Not just to me, but to John as well."
"George, please don't do this now," Pleaded Jo.
"Fine," Said George, turning from the bed. "But rest assured, this isn't over, not by a long way."
George went and had a cigarette in the lounge to try and calm herself down. There would be time enough tomorrow to get angry with Jo, she shouldn't be doing that now. But what in the world had led Jo to attempt such a thing. Even at her lowest moments, George could never have gone through with something like that because of the effect she knew it would have had on John. But Jo seemed to have somehow got passed this little obstacle. George shuddered when she thought of what John would have done if they hadn't managed to save Jo. Neil's fury at her failing to get Atkins and Merriman found not guilty wouldn't have even come close. If John ever lost Jo, he would self-destruct. She was old and wise enough to realise that her own death would not have had quite such a dramatic effect on him, but she doubted whether he would ever survive if Jo died before he did. Good god, she thought, shaking herself out of the mood of sheer solemnity she seemed to have fallen in to, now wasn't the time for dwelling on anyone's reaction to losing someone else. John would have quite enough to say when he found out about this. Trying to plan ahead for the form that reaction might take was useless. Stubbing out her cigarette, George made her way back to the bedroom to see that Jo was still awake, waiting for her.
"The smell of that cigarette is driving me mad," Jo said in greeting.
"Tough," George replied curtly. "You should be getting some sleep."
"So should you," Countered Jo.
"I've been instructed to keep an eye on you."
"I'm not going anywhere." Taking a breath to throw back an angry response, George remembered her resolve of minutes earlier not to get angry with Jo and shut her mouth again. Asking if she could borrow something to sleep in, George undressed, and after cleaning her teeth, crawled under the duvet, immediately turning her back on Jo. They lay there for a while, not speaking, both thinking. But George couldn't keep up this level of separation for more than half an hour. Jo had been waiting for her to turn over, knowing that George's need for closeness would eventually outweigh her will to punish. When George did turn over to face her, Jo could see the tears glistening in her eyes like dew on a moonlit lawn. As their arms instinctively reached out for each other, Jo winced when the capped end of the needle in her arm jarred against the pillow.
"What?" Asked George hurriedly.
"Sh," Jo said softly. "Just the needle Karen left in my arm."
"She wanted to leave it there till tomorrow in case of any unforeseen complications, to save her putting a new one in, or something like that. She'll take it out when she comes to see you in the morning." As their legs gently entwined and George held on to this woman who meant so much to her, she vowed never to allow Jo to ever feel so unhappy again.
"Besides making me throw up more than I ever thought possible," Said Jo, "What exactly did Karen do to me?"
"How much do you remember?" Asked George.
"Not an awful lot. Everything's quite hazy."
"Well, that's hardly surprising."
"I vaguely remember you arriving, but I can't remember what we talked about. The next thing I knew, Karen was shining a light in my eyes and talking to me. From then on, everything seemed to start to drift. The only constant seems to have been all three of your voices, but I couldn't tell you most of what you said. I don't really remember how I ended up in bed, but I do remember Karen putting the needle in my arm, and then nothing until she gave me that injection to make me throw up."
"Karen had to give you a shot of adrenaline because your heart was beating too slow. I didn't realize quite how serious that was until I saw the look of sheer relief on her face afterwards. Then, because of all the alcohol I'm assuming you drank, plus the extreme way we got rid of it, you became dehydrated. That gave Karen quite a scare, because at first she didn't know what had caused you to deteriorate. She thought it was a reaction to one of the drugs she'd given you, but after talking to Dr. Thomas Waugh, whose phone presence we also had from time to time, she gave you two bags of fluid which sorted you out."
"Thomas Waugh? As in the Thomas Waugh who works with Karen?"
"Who else. Karen was with him when I phoned her. So, as well as telling her exactly what to do, though I think she already knew most of it herself, he supplied her with the necessary bits and pieces from Larkhall's hospital wing. He also said that we'd need some help, which is why Karen brought Yvonne with her." Jo looked aghast.
"But he could get struck off for doing all that and not reporting it."
"Yes," Said George, some of the sternness creeping back in to her voice. "And if you had died, Karen would have been up on a charge of manslaughter by negligence, possibly together with Yvonne and yours truly for assisting her."
"Yeah, thanks for the legal update, George," Said Jo hurriedly.
"Well then, perhaps that ought to tell you how much we weren't prepared to just let you die," George said vehemently, the tears ever threatening to fall. "As Yvonne so matter-of-factly put it, there are too many people who love you."
"I remember that bit."
"Well, start bloody listening to it then. John loves you, I love you, your children love you. I know you love John, and I know you love your children. I know that how you feel about me has always been something of a closed book, but I didn't think I was quite so insignificant, that you could just leave us all without even so much as an explanation." The tears were streaming down George's face now, and she knew she was becoming hysterical. Attempting to calm down, she said, "I'm sorry, that's just how much it hurt to know you could try to do something so drastic, that's all." Jo was very quiet for a while. Eventually, she said,
"You should get some sleep."
"How can I?" Asked George in despair, "I don't trust you not to finish what you started."
"I don't think I've got anything like the amount of energy it would need to try anything else," Jo replied, leaving it unsaid that if she did, she might. "Besides, I've got nothing left with which to do it. Anyway, how did you know what I'd taken?"
"Yvonne found the empty bottle and your prescription."
"Yvonne did?" Asked Jo in surprise.
"Yes," Said George dryly. "Seeing as I know you and this flat better than they do, I offered to look for it. But Yvonne's response was to ask me if I'd ever done a cell spin. I think that was how she put it." Jo smiled.
"She does have a way with words." They lay quiet for some time, just holding each other close.
"I don't ever want to stop doing this, being close to you," Said George softly.
"And I don't want to turn in to somebody different," Replied Jo. "I don't want to turn in to someone whom both you and John could come to loathe the very sight of." George drew back from her slightly to look at her face.
"That's why you did it, wasn't it," She said in dawning comprehension. "You thought this was the simplest way to stop drinking."
"I don't want to end up like my father, George."
"Darling, listen to me," Said George, gently but firmly. "We can get through this, and we will get through this. We haven't come this far, and I'm talking about all three of us now, to just let you give up because you might not be able to see a way out of it. We love you, and we will never ever stop loving you. So don't ever think you're not worth it. Both me and John would fall apart at the seams if we didn't have you. Just remember that." As they lay there for a good while longer, both of them taking in all George had said, they were both wondering if George's words really could be fulfilled.
They both slept intermittently, but George frequently jerked herself in to wakefulness, always feeling for the pulse in Jo's neck, desperate to make sure she was still alive. At one point when she did this, Jo was awake.
"George," She said, taking her hand. "I am still here."
"Do you blame me for not leaving it to chance?" George asked sleepily. Jo didn't answer. Pressing a quick kiss to Jo's cheek, George slipped back in to a doze. But Jo was left thinking. She really had hurt George, more than she possibly could have imagined. She quailed when she thought of what John would say if he knew about this. Jo had never ever been afraid of John in her life, but knowing she had been prepared to leave him like that would make him angrier than she'd ever seen him before. It would be made all the worse because of how his mother had died. She had died from an overdose, and Jo had nearly put him through it a second time. If she'd succeeded, she wouldn't have had to deal with his anger or his pain. But as she was still alive, and if George told him, she didn't think he'd ever forgive her.
"George," Jo said suddenly, bringing her back to full alertness. "Promise me you won't tell John about this."
"Sh," Said George gently. "Go back to sleep. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"He'll never forgive me for doing this," Said Jo, the fear creeping in to her voice.
"John loves you, Jo," George insisted, but at the same time wondering if Jo might be right.
"He won't love me after this," Said Jo, becoming more and more certain by the minute.
"We'll talk about all this tomorrow," George said firmly. Then, as Jo began to drift back to sleep, George murmured to no one in particular, "It might not mean much to you in the grand scheme of things, but I still love you." Afterwards, Jo could never be sure if she'd heard these words, or simply imagined them.
When George roused herself from sleep for the last time around nine the next morning, she could see that Jo was already awake.
"How do you feel?" George asked groggily.
"Not brilliant, but I think that's probably hang over more than anything else." George turned over and closely examined Jo's face.
"Forget it," She said with a shrug. "I don't have the faintest idea what I'm looking for. Would you like some tea?" She asked as she got out of bed. Jo simply lay, contemplating George's question.
"No thank you," She said eventually. "I wouldn't mind another shot of that antisickness drug before I eat or drink anything. I think last night's dose has worn off. Please can I have a cigarette?" She asked with a grimace as another wave of nausea swept over her. When George returned with the cigarettes, lighter and an ashtray, Jo said, "this feels like being pregnant again."
"Yes," George agreed. "A cigarette was the only decent cure for morning sickness I ever discovered."
"And I bet John spent half his time telling you it was bad for the baby."
"Oh, yes, at every possible opportunity. It's infuriating. John thinks there's absolutely nothing wrong with his addiction because it's slightly more exotic than cigarettes or..." She stopped, not quite sure how Jo would take a mention of the thing that had almost killed her.
"Or alcohol," Jo finished for her. "You can say it, George." Putting out a hand, George took one of Jo's, gently stroking the knuckles.
"Jo, I'm not entirely sure what has made you start drinking too much. I've got an idea as to some of the reasons behind it, but I'm not all that certain. But whatever it is, we will get through it."
"I wish I could believe that," Jo said dully. Stubbing out her cigarette, she got out of bed, saying that a shower might make her feel slightly more human. As George watched her walk out of the room, she knew that getting Jo to talk was going to be an uphill struggle.
Karen and Yvonne arrived whilst Jo was still in the shower and George was in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil. When she heard the wrap on the front door, she pulled on Jo's dressing-gown and went to answer it.
"Did we wake you?" Karen asked when George appeared.
"No," She replied as she let them in. "I was just making tea. Do you want some? Jo's in the shower." As they went in to the kitchen and Yvonne placed the ever faithful first aid box on the table, Karen rested a hand on George's shoulder and took a good look at her face.
"You know, Jo's not the only one who needs to start looking after herself," She said to George. "You look all in."
"I didn't sleep very much last night, that's all," George replied, moving away to find two more mugs.
"And you're still getting over the residual effects of breast cancer and chemotherapy, George," Said Karen firmly. "Rest and nourishment are still things you need in substantial amounts. I don't need to tell you how important that is."
"No, you're right, you don't," Replied George a little curtly. "Jo's the one who needs looking after at the moment, not me."
"Just be careful, that's all I'm saying," Finished Karen gently, recognising the early morning George who clearly hadn't had enough sleep and who was still wound up from the day before. "How is Jo this morning?" She asked, trying to change the subject.
"I think that whatever you gave her last night to stop her throwing up has worn off," George replied, getting the milk out of the fridge. "She says she's not going to try to eat or drink anything until she's had another shot."
"Another dose of Cyclozine won't do her any harm, but she really needs to get at least some fluids inside her as soon as possible."
"What happened to that blood sample you took?"
"It stayed perfectly happily in my fridge overnight, and I dropped it in to the prison this morning. Thomas was going to drop it in to the lab on his way home, but he wants me to take another one today."
"When's the judge back?" Yvonne asked, never having been able to think of him as John, no matter how much she might like him.
"Not till Friday, thank God," Said George, pouring boiling water over teabags. "Hopefully any needle marks might have gone by then."
"He does have to know about this, George," Said Karen tentatively. "You know that."
"Oh, and you want to be the one to tell him, do you?"
"Oh, it won't be me," Karen said without a hint of doubt in her tone. "Jo's going to do that."
"Over her dead body she will," Said George, immediately clapping her hand to her mouth in disgust.
"Quite," Said Karen. "It almost was her dead body last night. George, John cannot be kept in the dark about this. Would you want to be if you were in his shoes?" Plonking two mugs of tea down on the kitchen table and leaning against the fridge to drink her own, George said,
"No, I wouldn't. I'd be even more hurt, bewildered and furious than I already am."
"So you see why he has to be told about this?" Persisted Karen.
"Yes, I do," Replied George resignedly. "But you're not going to find it easy to persuade her." Hearing Jo come out of the bathroom, Karen gave her a few minutes before picking up the first aid box and walking along to her bedroom.
As Jo had emerged from her shower, she'd become aware that George was talking to someone and she knew that Karen and possibly Yvonne had arrived to see her. Jo's bedroom door was closed when Karen gently tapped on it and when she put her head round, she saw that Jo had put on a different nightie and had returned to bed.
"Can I come in?" Karen asked quietly.
"Yes," Came Jo's equally unemphatic reply. Not wanting George to have any possibility of hearing what she had to say to Jo, Karen came in and closed the door behind her. She walked round to the right side of the bed, clearly where Jo usually slept, and perched on the edge of it some distance from Jo, putting the box for the moment on the floor at her feet.
"How do you feel?" She asked, trying to banish any hint of anything but a harmless question from her tone. Jo opened her mouth and shut it again. She didn't seem to know how to describe the total sense of shame and humiliation she was feeling.
"I'm alive," Said Jo eventually. "But then you know that." Karen felt the tears pricking behind her eyelids and had to quash an urge to put her arms round this woman whose entire soul was currently radiating nothing but pain and regret.
"Well," Said Karen, forcing herself not to go soft on Jo quite yet. "There were a couple of times last night where I wondered if you would be able to say that this morning. You had me seriously frightened at least twice."
"You didn't sound it, not once," Said Jo. "That's the one thing I can remember with any constancy is your voice."
"First rule of nursing," Replied Karen decisively. "Never, ever, betray your feelings to the person you're caring for."
"I wonder if that's where I went wrong with my husband," Jo mused. "I started seeing John when my husband was terminally ill. I've always nagged at John about his lack of fidelity, and I was hardly any better. I never told him I was seeing John, but I think he knew."
Karen didn't offer an opinion, she simply waited. "I'm sorry," Said Jo.
"Don't be," Said Karen gently, who could see the cracks beginning to give way. "George said you'd quite like a top up of the Cyclozine, the antisickness drug," She said, trying to regain safer ground.
"Yes," Said Jo, grateful for the temporary reprieve.
"Have you been sick at all this morning?"
"No, but only because I've not had anything to eat or drink." Karen picked up the first aid box and put it on the bed on the other side of Jo's feet. Rifling through its now slightly jumbled contents, she drew out another prepacked syringe of Cyclozine.
"This is the one that has to go in your thigh," She said, unwrapping it and drawing back the duvet. Jo lay perfectly still as the needle pierced her skin, wishing that all her emotional ills could be so easily remedied. "I need to look in your eyes and listen to your heart." After briefly shining the penlight in to Jo's eyes, Karen wrote down "Pupils pinpoint and reacting." "That's an improvement on when I first saw you last night," She commented, dropping the light back in the box and untangling the stethoscope. After listening to the strong, reassuring beat for fifteen seconds whilst keeping one eye on her watch, Karen wrote down, "Pulse 100", and asked, "Have you been smoking this morning?"
"Yes," Said Jo. "It was the only way to stop feeling so sick. Why?"
"Because your heart rate is on the high side of normal for a healthy, resting adult, but you have just come out of a hot shower, so that might have something to do with it as well. Did George tell you," Continued Karen as she put the stethoscope away. "That I had to give you a shot of adrenaline?"
"Was it really that bad?" Asked Jo.
"Your pulse was down to 48 beats per minute," Said Karen sternly. "If it had been allowed to go any lower, it could easily have stopped altogether and then we really would have been in trouble. One thing Thomas didn't supply me with was a defibrillator, and plain old heart massage is not a sure-fire way of restarting it. If you had gone in to full heart block, I'd have had absolutely no choice but to get you to a hospital. You may think that couldn't have happened, but as well as your heart beating too slowly, it was beating out of time. But luckily, the adrenaline managed to sort you out. While I remember, apart from feeling sick, have you had any stomach pain?"
"Yes, but I just thought that was from throwing up so much last night."
"It probably is," Said Karen, "But I'd rather be safe than sorry. I need to feel your stomach."
"Be my guest," Said Jo dryly. Knowing that Jo probably wouldn't like her seeing too much of her body, even after last night's humiliation, Karen kept her eyes fixed on Jo's face as she gently raised her nightie to bunch just under her breasts. Jo was grateful for Karen's sensitivity, but after having either her or Yvonne or both undress her last night, she really couldn't care less. Karen gently palpated the area under Jo's left breast, where the stomach is situated, also listening to its empty silence with the stethoscope.
"That's fine," She said, drawing Jo's nightie back down to midthigh. "If it had been in any way swollen or distended, that might have indicated an aggravated ulcer, but the excessive vomiting probably just strained the muscle a bit. But if you should start vomiting blood, you will need to find a hospital and fast, because a ruptured ulcer goes way beyond anything that can be kept even slightly unofficial."
"What happened to the blood you took last night?" Jo asked, drawing the duvet back over herself.
"It stayed in my fridge over night, and is being analyzed as we speak to check on your kidney and liver function. I've got to take some more now, to do a second check on your liver and to do a toxicology screen to make sure that there isn't any or at least too much Temazepam left in your system. I'll take it from your left arm this time, because no drugs have gone through there in the last few hours, and because the vein in your right will still be too bruised."
"Why can't you just take it from the needle that's already there?"
"Whilst any drug residues will have been washed away from the vein by the blood stream, they will still be present on the surface of the needle." As Karen opened and put on a new pair of surgical gloves, she added, "I did ask George last night, but do you have any blood complications I should be extra wary of?"
"No, you're quite safe."
"I'm sorry," Said Karen, unwrapping a new needle and syringe for collecting the blood. "But I had to ask." She quickly and deftly took a sample of blood from the vein in Jo's left elbow, and then removed the canula from the back of her left hand, quickly staunching the small cut with a sterile dressing. When Karen had cleared everything away, Jo asked,
"Why did you stop nursing?"
"Because people kept doing stupid, pointless, drastic things to themselves in the hope that it would make all the pain go away, only coming to us when it was too late, and all we could do was watch them die. I'm sorry," She said after a moment's pause. "George wasn't the only one who didn't sleep too well last night, and I think it's catching up with me." Then, trying to soften her gaze she said, "Do you feel like talking?"
"No," Said Jo, sounding more defeated than ever.
"Well," Said Karen firmly. "I don't care whether it's today, tomorrow or next week, or whether it's to George, to me, to John, to anyone, but you are going to do it. I didn't go through one of the worst nights of my life just to let you go back to square one. You know George, she doesn't really do fear, or if she does, she does her best not to show it. But she was almost scared out of her mind last night, and to be honest, I don't blame her. Doing what I did for you last night used to be part of my job. So except for the couple of times when I thought I really was going to lose you, I was able to keep it together, because I didn't really have any choice. Yvonne, being who she is, or at least who she used to be, is relatively good at keeping her head in a crisis and there isn't much Yvonne hasn't seen. But it was different for George. At the time, she didn't really know just how serious the situation was. It scared the hell out of her that you weren't talking and hardly seemed to be reacting to what was happening to you. Even when I explained that you were emotionally hiding, I know that part of her didn't entirely trust me. Afterwards, when she began looking through the record I'd kept of everything I'd done, she was horrified to realise that I'd been covering my back just in case you had died." Karen suddenly stopped. She had wanted to make Jo aware of just how dangerous her flirting with death had been, but maybe that had really been going a little too far.
"I'm sorry," Jo said, her voice a half-strangled whisper. The tears were raining down her cheeks, her breath coming in great, heaving gasps now that the floodgates had been opened. Moving towards her, Karen helped her sit up so that she could put her arms round her.
"I'm so, so sorry," Jo said again between gasps.
"Sh, I know," Said Karen gently.
"I, I just couldn't bare the thought of losing someone else to cancer. So, I started drinking because that's always what I do when things get too difficult to deal with. I'm no better than my father when it comes down to it, and I didn't want to end up like him. If I had ended up like him, John and George would have loathed being in the same room as me. I love them both more than I've ever loved anyone, and I couldn't bear the thought of losing them just because I can't stop drinking." Then, after a moment, she added, "And I hate the fact that you're seeing me like this." It was this assertion that brought tears to Karen's own eyes.
"Do you remember," Karen asked a little unsteadily, "About three years ago now, when I came to see you at your office, and I told you exactly what Fenner had done to me? Well, that has to be the most humiliated and degraded I've ever felt in my life. I don't think I've ever been so emotionally vulnerable, so brutally expecting some sort of criticism for making one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made, as I was on that day. But all I got from you was help and understanding. No scorn, no telling me I should have known better. So you see, we're all capable of making mistakes, of making a decision and then regretting it. I, George, John, we might all be initially furious with you for attempting something like this, but that's only because we all think so much of you."
"Please, Karen, you mustn't tell John about this," Jo was adamant. Karen drew back from her slightly, seeing that Jo's tears had been replaced by a look of fear-laden pleading.
"No, I won't tell John about this," She said carefully. "Because you're going to do that."
"I can't," Jo said firmly. "You know how his mother died. He'd never forgive me if he thought I'd almost done the same thing."
"And just how do you think he would have felt had you succeeded? He'd have felt as guilty as hell, along with George, me, your children, I could go on. I'm not doubting that it will be the hardest thing you've ever had to do, but you have to tell him."
"I think the hardest thing I've ever done was to abort his baby," Jo said quietly.
"When was this?" Karen asked, concealing her surprise.
"Oh, 1987. I was caring for a terminally ill husband, and I had two very young children." It was left unsaid that at the time, it had been her only option. "John was in the process of divorcing George, so it wasn't the right time for him either."
"And I'm guessing that you've never really dealt with that," Karen said slowly.
"No, probably not," Jo replied, and Karen could hear the distinct reluctance to discuss it further. They were quiet for a moment, and Karen could see that Jo's thoughts were slipping away from the present, possibly focusing on the unresolved guilt of the passed.
"I'd better go," Karen said reluctantly. "I've got to get this blood in to adequate storage for a start."
"Thank you, for everything you did," Said Jo quietly. "I am fully aware of what the legal consequences might have been if I hadn't made it."
"I'm just glad I've kept my qualifications up to date," Karen replied. "But the best thing you can do for me, is to start looking after yourself again. John sought professional help a few years ago, and whilst I know it wasn't exactly an unmitigated success for him, I think it's something you ought to consider. But in the meantime, you have George, you have John, and if you ever need someone who isn't quite so personally involved, you have me. Don't ever underestimate how much either John or George need you. Ever since your threeway relationship began, you've been the mainstay for both of them. George might have spread her wings for a while with me, but that was before she realised how she felt about you," She said with a small smile. "But they would both come adrift if they didn't have you. You are the one person, except perhaps each other, that they would do just about anything for. I think you need to realise that just for a change, it's you who needs to rely on them." Briefly squeezing Jo's hand, Karen got up from the bed, picked up the first aid box and softly walked out of the room, leaving Jo to her thoughts.
When Karen had gone in to Jo's bedroom, Yvonne and George were left in the kitchen. Both women had, for some time, adopted a healthy respect for the other, mainly because they knew that the other had once been top in Karen's affections. But even though Yvonne had lingering thoughts of one day getting back with Karen, she was still aware that there would always be a private place in Karen's heart for George, something she could never hope to eradicate. Part of Karen would always love George, but Yvonne had no need to fear this. Yvonne was all too aware that Karen would never tie herself exclusively to anyone again. She had been hurt too often, not just by the men in her life, but by the death of her son the previous year, to want to give all of herself to one person, for fear that she couldn't survive if they should be taken from her. Yvonne watched George as she lit a cigarette, observing the slight shake in her hands that spoke of how tired and emotionally drained she was.
"How are you doing this morning?" Yvonne asked gently. "Because it isn't only Jo who's been through the mill."
"I'll be all right," George said hurriedly, feeling the control she'd hitherto maintained inexorably slipping away from her.
"You don't look it," Replied Yvonne, knowing that George needed to talk, to cry, to maybe even shout, and wanting to tell her that it was okay to do this. Yvonne's kind concern was too much for George.
"I don't know how to feel," George said, finally beginning to let out some of her anguish. "I'm so angry with her for thinking she could just leave us without a word. Yet, I know how bad she must have felt to do that because I've been there. I've never attempted anything of the sort, but there have been times when I've thought about it. Maybe it's my fault for not noticing how bad things had got. I knew she was drinking too much, and I was working my way round to trying to get her to talk about it, but I obviously didn't do it quick enough."
"You can't think like that," Yvonne said firmly.
"Why?" George asked, angry tears flooding her face. "I've been so eaten up by losing a breast and going through chemo, that I've probably started taking Jo for granted."
"I know," Said Yvonne, laying a comforting hand over George's.
"How do you know?" George's curiosity was aroused.
"Karen talks a lot about you," Yvonne said simply.
"Does she?" George was surprised.
"Yeah, of course she does," Yvonne said with a smile. "You will always be very special to her. She doesn't go very long without worrying about you. I would give a lot to be back with Karen, but I know that she'll never tie herself to anyone long term, not now."
"She's getting a bit like John," George observed. "He's so insecure that even having two women on the go doesn't always keep him on the straight and narrow."
"How's he going to take this?"
"I don't know," Replied George miserably. "I just wish it hadn't got this far. I love her so much," She said in total despair, now totally unable to keep her sobs in check. Yvonne stood up and moved round the table, and putting her arms round George, held the other woman close.
"I can't believe how Karen kept her head last night," George said eventually.
"That's Karen all over," Said Yvonne with a proud smile. Then, her eyes turning sad, she said, "I don't suppose you remember the night Ritchie died." George looked up in surprise.
"Yes, I do," She said, wondering where this was leading.
"Well, when Karen told me what he'd done, I went in to a similar kind of shock to what Jo did last night. I was holding a glass of wine, and I squeezed it so hard that it shattered and cut my hand quite badly. So, Karen being her wonderful, resourceful self, unearthed my illegally extensive first aid kit and calmly sewed up my hand." She held out the offending object, on whose palm George could see three extremely neat scars. "If anyone could have sorted Jo out on the quiet, it was Karen."
"I just hope John sees it like that," Said George, clearly unconvinced. "If Karen has her way, and Jo does tell him about this, Karen is courting the biggest, loudest row she's ever had in her life."
"She'd rather let him shout at her and get it out of his system," Said Yvonne matter-of-factly, "Than keep it from him. Karen's had far too many secrets in her life one way and another, and the friendship she has with the judge is too important to her."
They stayed close for a while longer, George taking comfort from the woman who, to some extent had been a rival where Karen was concerned. But they both looked up as they heard Karen walking along the hall towards the kitchen.
"Are you all right?" George asked, seeing the brief tears in Karen's eyes.
"No," Said Karen quietly. "Not really. Now I know why they expressly forbid you to treat people you know, especially in a situation like this."
"Is Jo all right?"
"She will be, but I think she could do with a cuddle. I've done all I can for now."
"I can't ever thank you enough for doing what you did," Said George seriously.
"Just do one thing for me," Replied Karen, not really wanting any form of appreciation from anyone. "Make her tell John, because I can't keep quiet about this for long." Both George and Yvonne could see that the whole episode was finally catching up with Karen, the stress and the adrenaline of the night before being replaced by the sheer futility of suicide, whether that be attempted or achieved, with Jo or with Ross.
When she'd closed the door on Karen and Yvonne, George made her way back to the bedroom, wondering what state Jo might be in. But she was simply lying with her head turned away from the door, silently crying. George walked round to Jo's side of the bed and perched on the edge, taking her hand.
"I'm sorry, George," She said, the tears making her voice slightly hoarse.
"I know," Said George, the tears rising to her own eyes. "I just wish you'd talked to me first, that's all." Letting go of Jo's hand, George walked round to what she liked to think of as either hers or John's side of the bed, slipped out of the dressing-gown that was definitely too big for her, and slid under the duvet. "I love you so much," Said George, as their legs entwined and their arms wrapped round each other. "I just couldn't bear the thought of losing you, not ever." Their tears mingled as they clung together, neither wanting to be parted from the other.
"Do you know, one of the things that hurt the most about leaving without saying goodbye?" Jo said. "It was that I'd never told you I loved you. I should have said it a long time ago."
"Don't just say it because you feel you should," Said George, who had long ago reconciled herself to the fact that Jo might never say it.
"But I did, I do love you," Jo insisted. "It was just one of those things that it took me a while to get used to, and which I couldn't quite make myself say. John has always taken my love for him for granted, and I think I didn't want you to do the same."
"And over the last few months I probably have taken you for granted," George said regretfully. "And I'm sorry for that. I've been so eaten up with what's been happening to me that I don't think I noticed quite how much it was getting to you."
"I think that's why I started drinking," Said Jo soberly. "I couldn't handle the thought of losing you, not after the last couple of years. What you, me and John have is too different, too special. I never thought I'd be saying that about either of you, especially not about you, but I am. You both mean so much to me that I didn't want to hurt you by becoming what my father was."
"I know," Said George gently. "And there's still an awful lot for you to come to terms with, about that and about other things. Do you remember when you made me confront my anorexia, that day I fainted in court? Well, I think it's your turn to face a few things about yourself. Not now, but one day soon, because I'm not risking you ever being this unhappy again." As it dawned on both of them just how much they might have lost the night before, they clung if possible ever closer until, through sheer exhaustion, they fell asleep.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Three
As Tom came into work every day, that feeling of satisfaction with himself had bade him never to bemoan the day in, day out routine of one operation after another. He was thankful for the sense of dignity of his work, and his own repaired sense of identity. It enabled him to rise above Connie's outrageous desire to dominate all those around her ,and Will's perpetual bitching. While Ric was in the unenviable position of being middleman, Tom was able to carry on calmly doing what he was best at. He knew above all, that he had not always possessed that sense of stability and he never forgot that feeling of life being helplessly out of control.
It was three years that he had last tasted a drop of alcohol and he had never felt sharper and more alert in his life. He was able to plough through a series of examinations with fairly nonchalant ease, but without that desire to appear to shine which was the consequences of his upbringing. Right at the end of the day, he stepped out into the fresh air and the rosy red sunshine, which still lit up the skyline. It was a simple performance of nature, which once he would have ignored, in his characteristically tunnel-visioned fashion.
While he meditated, his mind drifted back over time with perfect ease and he could see a clearly as if he was watching a movie from the third row of the story of his own life. Right from the word go was that nagging sense that he was the son of a famous heart surgeon. It had given him an enormous feeling of pride in his father when he was little but, as he grew up, there was that sense that so much was expected of him to succeed as well. If he got nine out of ten for a school essay, his father's eyes would narrow in disappointment that he hadn't got ten out of ten. It instilled in him that inner tension that just would not let him be, and engendered that double edged personality trait. On the one hand, that drive for success had led him to where he is now but the downside was an intensely self critical attitude that would turn on him if he ever appeared to fall short of his standard. After a while, it didn't take more than a characteristic facial expression and turn of phrase to twist in the knife. At the same time, he could never free himself of that early hero worship of his father so he was even denied the ability to feel anger towards him.
When he looked back at his life, he had to admit that his father provided stability of a sort. At least he knew where he stood with his father. He might have had a better chance if he had had the soothing, constant mothering that he craved. That was denied to him by his mother's drinking. There were times when she gave him that motherly affection and other times when she didn't want him near her. He grew up permanently bewildered by her reaction as his mother's behaviour was never explained to him and therefore he could never explain it to himself until later on in life. The only sense he could make of it was that she seemed to be only half a grown-up, only half a mother. His father worked all the hours that God sent to further his career and was remote from him, except from those times when he was around and his powerful personality made its mark on him. Dysfunctional as his upbringing was, he knew nothing else in his upbringing and had nothing with which to compare it as he was an only child and he had few school friends who were close to him. To stop himself feeling the pain, started to grow that mask over his real feelings, enslaved as he was by the idea that 'big boys don't cry.' It was only many years later when he went through therapy that he realized how tenacious that convention, how it towered over him and his contemporaries.
Going to medical school enabled him to make that leap of confidence out of his former existence into a convivial, tight-knit institution. Superficially, it was the making of him and ministered to that need for self-approval. As he grew up and became successful, his mask fitted on his face, that slightly combative, self-assurance, and belief in his own abilities, which concealed his own insecurities and self-doubt. For how could he believe in himself when he could never be as brilliant as he remembered his father being and how could he seek comfort when comfort had been always denied him?
He could never remember how his self-destructive affair with alcohol ever started in the first place. As a hard-working surgeon, he could justify himself by saying how understandable it was to need to wind down after a hard day at work. This was a quite different matter from his mother's surreptitious drinking. That was a family conspiracy, that everyone knew but nobody alluded to. It was just that, as his career continued, this prop became very attractive to him, the golden chance to switch his mind off from all the inner tensions, all his self-doubts that continued to plague him. However successful he became, he could never escape himself. He found that the golden elixir provided the blissful answer. As time went on, he found it only too easy to blur and obscure the amount of alcohol that he was consuming as his addiction took charge and its hold of him gradually started its pervasive takeover of his waking hours. His agile mind enabled him to conceal from his consciousness just how much he was drinking. So long as he was able to keep up appearances, he could continue in his own crazy fashion. He was even able to ignore the periodic stomach cramps he suffered from as just a burden he was destined to carry.
It was only when the normally 'fit as a fiddle' Tom Campbell-Gore was rushed into hospital with a bleeding stomach ulcer. He never knew how he ever got there in the first place, just the memory of lying flat on his back, dressed in a patient gown and looking upwards at all the nurses hovering around him. It gave him a mild sense of being somehow in the wrong movie. He wasn't where he should be. He should be up there, standing upright and bestowing the benefits of his knowledge on behalf of the patient.
"I don't understand it," Ric had said to Ed. "There's a high level of fatty deposits on Tom's liver. That goes totally against the Tom Campbell-Gore who we thought that we knew."
Ed shrugged his shoulders uncomprehendingly. This was the fiery, opinionated top class surgeon they were talking about. He had long admired his daring in sailing closer to the wind than Ric ever dared and thereby performing miracles of surgery. This was a man whom he longed to emulate if he had the chance. He couldn't get his head around Tom Campbell-Gore being a patient, just lying there on the operating table.
"This can only be caused by one of four things, three of which can be ruled out in Tom's case, leaving that of excessive consumption of alcohol over a long period of time."
"There must be another reason, Ric. I've never known Tom to be falling down drunk so that can't be right," answered a bewildered Ed, shaking his head in negation of the very idea.
"Can't it?" Ric replied tersely, raising his eyebrows. "Experience will tell you that life isn't necessarily what it appears to be. I don't just mean in the operating theatre."
It was when Tom emerged from the operation that the real wake up call rang loud and clear, something that he couldn't switch off on his mobile. First of all, Ric confronted him about it after the operation, and told him that he wouldn't report Tom to the General Medical Council if Tom got some treatment. For the first time in his life, Tom looked into Ric's eyes and, behind the blazing anger, saw that pleading look in his eye as a close, if somewhat combative colleague, who really did want the best for him. His last chance was before his eyes to stop him going over the edge in total ruination. Suddenly, he slipped off the mask of the dominant charge surgeon and for the first time in his life, handed over the burden of being himself to someone or something else. Perhaps they might make a better go of it than he could. He felt bleak, empty and sick of himself. There was no where else to go and, in that resigned, accepting state of mind, allowed himself to be put through a drying out process at a discreet clinic. It weaned him off alcohol and, for the first time in his life, discovered that his waking hours carries so much space.
He felt newborn but vulnerable at the same time. All the feelings started to leak through his self imposed walls threatening to drown him. He felt needy, wanting to clutch onto anything in his life that would stabilize him. As he looked back on that seesaw period of recovery, he could see how inevitable that he should fall in love with that infinitely sweet angel of mercy, his psychiatrist, Anita Forbes. She was everything that was lacking in his life. In his stripped down painfully introvert emotional condition, she was the missing piece in his life. With her at his side, there was so much he felt that he could give of himself so that he wasn't just selfishly grasping for a lifeline as a drowning man. It hurt him through and through , when she softly declined his ardent declarations.
"I must put a stop to these therapy sessions, Tom. I feel that you have gained the strength to continue on your own."
That was a total bolt out of the blue to Tom. Life was on the upturn now. He had rediscovered a sense of joie de vivre in his soul. This bombshell would knock a vital prop from underneath him.
"How will I finally be at peace with myself?" he had asked Anita and himself despairingly." You have been my anchor in life, someone to whom I can express my inner feelings. After all, isn't this what it is all about? I can't be the man I used to be and
it is so hard to start all over at my time of life."
"You have now gained the strength to find that peace, Tom All I have ever done is to gently place important truths in your hands. They truly exist outside of my existence. Besides," she laughed in a self-deprecating fashion," if I see you much more, I might end up getting too attached to you more than is good for either of us."
It took a year of getting over the hurt and coming down off that terrifyingly intense emotional roller coaster. He realised later on that those obscure words were her way of saying that some of his feelings were in danger of being returned. He gained some slight comfort from that revelation.
Never mind, he shrugged to himself as the sun slanted down on him outside St Mary's hospital. All that happened three years agoand, as the old saying went, time is a quick healer. He had managed to work out his new identity, more understanding and sympathetic and less needing success at all costs. He saw the up and coming new registrars and could smile understandingly at them. If they were running a race, he didn't have to be part of it. There was less in him to cover up and conceal and by sheer accident, relative peace of mind sneaked up on him without him having to look for it. He could forget about all those rationalizations for sneaking another drink, without becoming smug enough to consider that that inner demon had been totally banished from within. What it did teach him was that he could spot another alcoholic, or incipient alcoholic a mile away and to pick up on those extremely convincing rationalizations. They were there for those with eyes to see.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Four
"So how outrageously controversial have you been at your conference? Have you persuaded your continental friends to form a Bolshevik Revival party?" George gently mocked John in seductive tones.
"Moderately so," came John's nonchalant reply. "I have, of course, found like-minded radical judges and have compared notes with just how repressive our respective countries are. It is curious, for example, how France is equally haunted by the oppressive spirit of Napoleon as much as it is inspired by the storming of the Bastille. Naturally, I prefer inspiration."
"You always were a rebel." George laughed.
"Otherwise I have been extremely good while I've been away."
"No one young enough or attractive enough for your taste?"
"For the first time, I have approached a conference in a purely platonic spirit of the meeting of like minded people and the opportunity to widen my perspective. It is too easy to think that the Old Bailey and its immediate surroundings is the hub of the universe. It isn't and I have had most interesting, far reaching conversations."
"Which are bound to be transmitted back to that wonderful ex of mine."
"It will give him something to do, something more to get paranoid and aggressive about."
"Have you been to Florence while you've been on your travels, John?"
"There's been no chance of that. We've been urged to work especially hard in true Spartan fashion except for an afternoon out sightseeing in Milan. Florence will have to regrettably wait for another opportunity. I trust that you have been looking after yourself while I'm away?"
"Still making lots of money as usual. I've been feeling reasonably well so long as I'm careful and don't overdo things. I have actually followed the advice from the hospital to the letter."
"That must be a first." Grinned John. "What about Jo? I've tried to phone her a couple of times but haven't been able to get an answer."
"She's fine. I saw her a couple of days ago." Lied George with perfect aplomb. "She's very engrossed with a particular case, which is taking up a lot of her time. Knowing Jo, I expect she's forgotten to charge up her mobile. Anyway, Charlie sends you her love and encouragement to you to be as politically badly behaved as I know that you are bound to be."
"How's Charlie getting on?"
"She's got a new boyfriend who thankfully isn't too spineless and too easily walked over."
John laughed down the phone at George's comforting voice, while a faint trace of breeze stirred the profusion of geraniums on the elegant terrace. The sun was beating down and he thought that a glass of his favourite Italian wine wouldn't come amiss. There was an interesting conversation developing somewhere behind him which allowed him time to catch up[on some reading later on.
"I've got to go, George. Needless to say, I really miss you and Jo not being around."
George was both touched and discomforted by John's curious mixture of the nonchalant and the sincere before she made a suitably polite reply. It reminded her to consider that she ought to go round to Jo to help her while prompting her nervousness as to her abilities in that direction. Her track record, as a carer didn't feel extensive or give her a great deal of confidence in herself.
She made an immediate decision to stay inside rather than chase the sun. Staying out of the sun suited her purposes as it helped her to meditate on Jo's situation with time on her hands on a tranquil Sunday. While the sun shone down brightly outside George's house, thanks to the solid old walls of the house, the living room was especially cool. It suited her purposes as much as other occasions when she would sunbathe in the back garden or else soak up the heat on the natural sun trap of the terrace with a dry Martini on the table. She headed for the living room, went to her piano and played a Chopin prelude in a desultory fashion before giving up and lying back on the sofa. It wasn't giving her inspiration. She needed time and the right atmosphere in order to think and sprawling full length on the sofa was the right place to be. As she stared at the chandelier above her, it felt to her that she had only heard fragments of Jo, not the complete picture. Even now, she felt that she had only considered pat explanations. She enjoyed her alcohol as much as anyone else and had been mildly drunk from time to time. That was not a problem for her but it was for Jo. She couldn't really understand why this was the case, certainly nothing she could feel as opposed to perceiving an intellectual response. Since when did any addiction relate to a fully engaged intelligence, she asked herself as the cigarette ash started to drop into the rather full glass ash tray.
Suddenly, memories came back to her of the events of over two years ago when she had been confronted by her own demons. Hadn't she only recently been given a black eye by her frightful ex, ironically now the Home Office minister which had finally given impetus to her own downward anorexic spiral and that it was John and Jo who had saved her? Hadn't she done her damnedness to keep up appearances, to calculate just how unobservant people were of how little she ate, aided and abetted by the modern fashion for slimming diets and sylph-like figures. The ironic thought struck her that anorexia would have been a sheer impossibility in the age of Renoir's rounded beauties. Very well, if she wanted to truly get inside Jo's mind to try to help heal her, oughtn't she take a good look at what had happened to herself? As these buried memories started to surface, long forgotten conversations came back to her mind, helped by the excellent memory that her profession had encouraged.
"You are the last person I want to see what a total wreck I am. Ever since John met you, I've had it made pretty bloody clear to me just how much of a failure I am compared to you," she had said to Jo at the time.
She vaguely remembered Jo's reply in that cool as a cucumber tone of voice while George was drowning in her own torments.
" ..I had a termination so you see, I haven't always been the perfect mother .you dream about it, wake up seeing it, and all you're left with is the what ifs .he drove me to the clinic .my husband was terminally ill, and I had two young children to look after ..for a while after the termination and after my husband died, I didn't think I could cope with Mark and Tom I was so depressed and so exhausted, that I asked my mother to have them, but she wouldn't I certainly wouldn't say I was a good mother then ."
At the time, George put it down to the sort of thing that a comforter would say but now it started to have new resonances. She knew well enough that her own anorexia was deep rooted. Likewise, John's addiction to sex went far back into John's own life story so why should the same not be true for Jo?
It was time for her to act and as good a time as any while John was away at the Human Rights seminar in Milan. It was as matter of minutes to phone Jo up to say that she was coming and rather longer to get ready to go. She remembered how John had always been apt to get fidgety and impatient while George arranged herself to perfection.
Jo kissed George warmly when she opened the door and welcomed her in perfectly naturally.
"Want a drink, George?"
"Thanks, the usual dry Martini for me. That has always been my favourite poison of choice."
Immediately, George bitterly regretted her flippant and unthinking choice of words but she concealed her feelings behind her carefully composed features
"Each to her own. I'm having a glass of mineral water. It's too hot and sweaty to have anything alcoholic, don't you think?"
"I'm a woman of moods as you very well know from down the years." George retorted, a wide if a little uncertain smile playing on her lips.
The conversation immediately wandered along the erratic path of formless chitchat as George was not entirely at her ease. It took a little while for Jo's sharp mind to pick up on the subtext and a broad knowing smile spread across her face.
"Come on, George, tell me the real reason why you came over much though I love having your company."
"No reason at all. What earthly reason would I have to come apart from the pleasure of seeing you?"
George was immediately conscious that her tone of voice was a little too forced, too exaggerated for her own liking. Jesus, she could see through herself in seconds.
"Come off it, George. I know you far too well for that."
"Am I so transparent?"
"More so than you think."
In an earlier era, George would have brazened out the pretense for as long as she could have got away with it. Since at that time she had trouble in being totally honest with herself, how much worse was she in engaging with those whom she was less intimate? However much the after effects of her breast cancer might hold her back, she was more adept in emotionally rising to the occasion than she used to be.
"I've been thinking back over two years ago when you and John forced me to face myself, who I was when I fainted in court after one of my bouts of anorexia. It took a lot to realize that it was not as impossible to discard that suit of armour as I first feared. I had always thought that it was protecting myself but all I was doing was to straightjacket myself. I remember that being made to stand on a pair of scales and letting that show up what I'd done to myself. That was hardly my idea of fun, " George started to say in slow deliberate tones while she was feeling her way. Her eyes were focused on Jo's face, to watch out for the slightest emotional reaction.
"I thought I'd explained myself to everyone," Jo replied shortly. "It's nothing I haven't done before "
" like my periodic bouts of anorexia." Countered George's soft low tones. "I had been doing that on and off since I was fifteen but the fact of that explains nothing. Your approach to drinking doesn't explain anything and does nothing to help you."
"Do you think that I need professional help?"
While Jo had stood up automatically to meet her challenge, George followed suit to meet Jo on her ground. She paused and past memories shaped her words slowly and deliberately to confess and unashamedly expose her own vulnerability.
"Everyone needs help at some time or another. I did. Even that revolting ex of mine might need help to get a personality bypass operation if he ever wanted it," drawled George.
"I'll get better by myself. I always do if I'm left to myself."
"Darling, just don't shut me out. I did that with John when Charlie was born and I paid heavily for that for years. It was so easy just to tell John how I felt about being a mother but it took till when Charlie was six for him to find out. By that time, the damage was done. Everyone suffered for my mistake, me most of all."
George's incredible display of tenderness and that aching tone in her voice took Jo by surprise. A few tears formed in her eyes before she lowered her head to hide them. George wrapped Jo in her arms and silently held her, her fingers tracing delicate patterns on the blouse that she wore. The growing tension in the air died down as the sunlight poured in through the near window. Everywhere was still.
"You have to talk, darling." George gently urged her. "I should know. I found out the hard way."
Gently, she drew Jo down onto the sofa. She sensed that Jo had to be in the right physical situation before she could talk.
"What do you want to know?"
"Just what exactly led you to drink more than was safe for you to do?"
Jo thought long and hard, her brows knitted before she spoke at last.
"Some of it is fairly obvious. If you are set to defend a woman who is accused of shortening the life of her dear husband who is in dreadful pain and the laws of the country see fit to put that woman up on trial rather than be infinitely sorry for her, it is no wonder that the trial will get to you sooner or later."
"And how did you feel about it, Jo," came the persistent question. The deliberately impersonal way in which Jo spoke rang loud alarm bells in George's mind. Dealing with Jo's obstinacy felt like a dentist trying to extract a particularly tenacious tooth.
"Well, naturally, I feel the same way too. You have to drink to wind down after an exhausting trial. That's obvious."
"Jo, I know how much you have a deserved reputation for caring for your clients while there are those who still think of me as a money chasing, power mad mercenary."
"You're being unfair to yourself."
"Well, perhaps there's a grain of truth in me being power mad. I just use it responsibly these days. Wouldn't it be true to say that your caring feelings come at least as close to home as anywhere? Take my breast cancer for example."
"You know that I was as scared rigid at the thought of losing you from the first time I heard the news. I just did a good job of covering up my feelings as I felt that I had to be strong for you."
"You were marvellous at helping me pull through that event, Jo." George responded warmly as the sound of panic in Jo's voice revealed that her tension level was going through the roof. "That's why I am trying to help you now."
"And this is your way of trying to help me?"
"We never really got round to talking properly about how you felt at the time of Barbara Mills' trial- or my recent breast cancer, come to think of that."
George carefully shaped those words from her mind to pass through her lips. They hung in the air for ages while Jo's eyes flicked nervously and her face remained taut and strained. In that split second, George realized that she had moved too far, too quickly.
"There's little to tell about the trial." Jo responded shortly. "You must know that, quite without intending or foreseeing it, I ended up reliving that part of my life that is best forgotten. You know very well that I started an affair with John at the very same time when my husband was dying. Oh yes, thanks to John, I had to have an abortion. It hardly makes me a model citizen as everyone thinks that I am."
The contempt in Jo's terse tones was clearly self directed and was felt very intensely. She pressed her hands to her eyes for a few minutes as if trying to blot out the memory. Suddenly, with a sharp angry movement, she turned to face George and looked her in the eyes and spoke at a machine gun pace.
"I know that you're going to ask me how I came to take too many sleeping tablets. Well the answer is very simple. I have been used to taking a nightcap or two before I go to bed and despite all that, I have had trouble in sleeping. I went to the doctor for some sleeping tablets and, like a fool, didn't bother reading the instructions that you aren't supposed to mix them. I must have taken more sleeping tablets than I thought I had which was a really stupid mistake. I'll never do that again."
George gave up as she slid her arm round Jo's shoulder. It was obvious what incredible barriers Jo was putting up in talking about it in any meaningful way and how unsuccessfully she had tried to bury the memory for years. It would take a lot more than her powers of persuasion to break down the barriers.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Five
While Jo's desperate attempt to finally blot out her pain had spread violent ripples outwards in every direction, news of this had not reached Helen and Nikki who were feeling very cheerful with their lot in life. It was a year on from when Nikki first took up her position as G Wing governor and, to Helen, it was obvious what they should do to mark the event.
"No, no, Helen," Nikki had exclaimed when Helen had first broached the idea. "I cannot see myself standing on a platform with everyone telling me how bloody wonderful I am."
"But you're used to standing up on a soap box." Helen had retorted cheekily.
"That's true, Helen but it was always about justice, never about me. I couldn't live with the embarrassment of it all."
"Well, from what I've heard from you, you are bloody wonderful. Surely you're not in favour of stopping free speech." Helen had relentlessly persisted.
"OK," sighed Nikki, surrendering to the inevitable. "Just who are you thinking of inviting round for a party? It's obvious that you've got everything planned right down to the last cheese straws." She had seen how the land lay from the look of glittering determination in Helen's eyes.
"Well, Karen for a start, and then Yvonne and Lauren naturally not to mention Cassie and Roisin," reeled off Helen, counting the numbers on her fingers, "Barbara is an obvious choice and we can't leave out Crystal and Josh. It would make a nice small group of friends who've known you from way back when. If any of them want to bring their kids round, all the better. It will be like a sort of family get together."
"You're sure that you don't expect me to make a speech?"
Helen had smiled freely at Nikki's nervousness and shrugged her shoulders. She had suspected that Nikki, left to herself, would say a few words off the top of her head so long as she wasn't pushed.
It was a warm bright sunny day and the flat was unusually smartened up and party food perched precariously wherever flat horizontal space could be found in the flat. Helen had set to work with a will while Nikki played the assistant. The last few sunny days had also prompted them to consider that the back garden offered gentle serenity in which to chill out and the back door was flung open wide. While their huge floor to ceiling bookcase retained pride of place, they had cleared out the normal casual clutter that they had meant to dispose of for some time. In the back garden, they had dusted down and cleaned up the wrought iron round tables and chairs that normally nestled amongst the carefully tended flowers and foliage that was Nikki's pride and joy.
Yvonne's gleaming red Ferrari just beat Cassie and Roisin for prime parking spot and Cassie's opportunity to make an entrance as she pulled their car up to a halt. The four women were smartly dressed and smiled at each other. A slight breeze wafted down the street and ruffled their clothes. Events had caused them to join up for a reunion and put aside their individual lives for the day, so that they were keyed up with excitement. It had all the flavour of a high school reunion, except that they had never really lost touch with each other.
"We haven't seen you in ages, Yvonne." Roisin apologized." We're increasingly run off our feet keeping up with our two. The school demand more homework out of them than when I was their age."
"There is an end in sight," smiled Lauren. "Take me, nicely settled with a good earner of a job after a few hiccups along the way."
"That's the bleeding understatement of the century, Lauren. Anyway, what are we doing standing on the street corner. We've got a party to go to, girls," commanded Yvonne striding ahead of the other women who followed along automatically.
She led the way down the flight of steps to the basement entrance to be greeted with a big hug each from Helen.
"I was just saying to Yvonne that I get nervous of what two growing teenagers will have in store for us."
Yvonne failed to smile. Perhaps Lauren's sometimes psychotic development had been stabilized now but it didn't stop her getting that phone call coming from out of the blue. That memory was still vivid of driving out at night to help deal with one of their favourite miracle working barristers, who had overdosed on sleeping tablets and alcohol. This was a world that even Helen and Nikki were blissfully unaware of, and it was best that they remain ignorant at least for now. Yvonne just shrugged her shoulders, and did her best to regale Roisin and Cassie of her memories of Lauren at the same age as their children.
"I'm not the best role model for your two," cut in Lauren as Nikki came out to greet them.
"So it's your anniversary today, Nikki," called out Yvonne with a big grin on her face.
"An anniversary of one, I can deal with, especially the year I've had. After this, things can only get better. Anyway, the main thing is that we're all together and my event makes a good excuse for a party."
"Reason, more like, Nikki." Yvonne said softly while Lauren nodded emphatically. She above all else had reason to be eternally grateful for Nikki's kind-hearted care.
"Have you heard if Babs will be coming along?"
"That might be her at the door," answered Helen as she set to open wide the doors of hospitality to her.
A very radiant fresh-faced Barbara neatly stepped into the front room to receive many hugs. The last clear memories of her had been their view of the pale, strained looking woman in the dock. It was clear that months of country living had given her back that appetite for life. A few seconds behind her came the noisy arrival of Josh and Crystal along with their two boisterous children.
The first instincts of a reunion took over as a whole series of crosscutting conversations took place. It was as if these conversations had been reined in due to their lack of proximity, and were now unleashed in every direction. They looked round at each other, not believing that those near and dear to each other were here in the flesh and not just some lurking tender memory while they were busy making other plans.
"We normally get together at the pub across the way from the Old Bailey. I've always liked it there."
"In a way, it's best that we're meeting here this time."Yvonne answered Helen's chattiness in grim tones."We won't be trying our best to have a drink and a laugh with one eye on the watch till we go, and watch one of ours go through the mill for another day. No gritted teeth waiting for the verdict."
"That reminds me, isn't John coming along with the very gorgeous Jo and George?" Cassie enquired with a grin.
"I spoke to them earlier on," Karen replied straight faced," and they said that they would have loved to come but unfortunately, as ill luck would have had it, they all have trials to prepare for."
Yvonne looked equally blank faced while Lauren looked very questioningly at her mother. She had been at home when her mother had picked up the phone, had shot out with hardly a word and had been very tight-lipped on her return.
"I'm sure that we will be in their thoughts as they will be in ours. We've a lifetime ahead and, who knows, we'll all meet up again. Anyway, Helen's made all the party food and there's the drink of your choice so what say we go out into the back garden."
Nikki's past experience of running her club came to the surface from her unconscious and her understated lead persuaded all the guests to trail out into the back garden. The first sight of it showed the fruits of Nikki's gardening skill set in a modest area. The back of the flats towered four stories up into the air and it made a natural suntrap
Karen and Yvonne stood together, half as onlookers, half someplace else being the corner sofa on which Jo was slumped while they helped battle for her life. They were half removed from the smiling and chattering, the gleaming sunbeams as it illuminated the back garden. They made dutiful conversation and, yes, part of them were really pleased for Nikki. After all, she had worked so hard throughout her life to get to where she was and they owed it to her not to be party poopers.
Helen was in her element as she served the drinks to everyone while Nikki diffidently sipped at her wine and chatted to all and sundry, her eyes flicking towards Crystal's and Josh's children. In a hazily introspective mood, she was moved by their unthinking innocence, that they could behave in such a charmingly unselfconscious manner. She had lived in that land once, in the back garden greenery of her parents' garden, the one place where she had truly felt at home. As she came back to the present, she saw dear faces from the past, free from the dingy yellow walls of Larkhall into their natural habitat. She scanned Helen's laughing face, who had got free so that they could love each other. Into the frame of her vision, Yvonne's wicked grin came into sight and she had left Larkhall's gates behind in her turn. Lauren came mistily into her vision, her arm draped round Cassie's shoulders, as happy as can be, having escaped her own prison, physical and mental. Likewise, Babs, so lucky in husbands, so unlucky in their lives, had put her life back together after her second spell at Larkhall and chatted to Josh and Crystal. There was a rich, glowing quality about them all, that sisterhood into which river of experience Josh had been so sheepishly immersed, yet holding his own place. They were all assembled here in their back garden for a purpose, had they not? Yet time freewheeled along, no deadlines, no bars and barriers to hold them in. Only she and Karen remained yet they were not confined except by their duties so that any limitations on them made sense. That was what they were there for, on trust for their friends, Nikki dreamed aloud.
As her vision blurred slightly, it seemed that they were expecting something from her, the birthday girl as she used to be so many years ago. She could not understand how she had hated those family occasions, as she had gained the power and right to customize it to her own purposes.
"I suppose you are all expecting me to make some kind of speech, aren't you?" Nikki broke into the chatter, in louder tones than she imagined herself saying. To her great surprise, everyone's heads swung round in her direction, smiling in anticipation.
"I cannot imagine you doing any different, Nikki. You knocked them dead at that Conference, in front of all those academics. We should be a total pushover," came Karen's dry response.
"But what shall I say?"
"Whatever comes into your mind, Nikki. You were always gobby. You've not changed since then," chimed in Yvonne.
"You can't come over all coy and reticent, Nikki. I insist." Helen chimed in, grinning from ear to ear.
That nearly made Nikki run for cover. The problem was that she knew them too well and she hated to talk about prisons on such a glorious summer day.
"Why don't you talk about your feelings, Nikki? Say it from the heart as you always do." Barbara's soothing kind voice cut in. Her eyes were infinitely kind and she understood Nikki's embarrassment. The other woman breathed in and out deeply and her tension gradually flowed out of her. The words were out there somewhere as they always had been. All she had to do was to pluck them out of thin air and they would formulate themselves. As her head was raised up to the sun, it seemed that the dazzling rays transmitted that blinding inspiration. She was confident that the words were there in her mind and just needed speaking. She took a sip of wine and cleared her throat .
"I hope this doesn't sound like my party political broadcast, but I just want to say a few words. Any major event wouldn't be complete without me shooting my mouth, you name it, human rights conference, the witness stand in the Old Bailey, prison protests, been there done it but I feel incredibly nervous standing up in front of my dearest friends. In another time, I would have talked about sisterhood because that was my life in running a gay club. Times have changed and I've also learnt to value the good men that I work with, who I have got to know outside work. We shall all be together if we wish to make it so. We've all seen some of the worst times in Larkhall, and we've come through the other side. I just hope that in this last year, I've lived up to my ideals and get the chance to do some good in the world without compromising my principles "
Helen started as a memory flashed through her mind of saying those very same words way back when. She smiled to herself as she realized how the odds were stacked much more in Nikki's favour.
" ..anyway, Karen seems to be happy with my politics. She is my boss, after all and I have to do as she says."
A ripple of gentle affectionate laughter ran round Nikki's audience who formed in a semicircle round her. Karen smiled dutifully as Nikki paused to round into her conclusion.
"I'd like everyone to fill up their glasses right now and drink a toast with me for true friendship and also to absent friends that we all know somewhere out there. The only thing that is equal to it is true love, both for yourself and to another."
Helen, Roisin, Cassie, Josh and Crystal enthusiastically raised their glasses with shining eyes. Barbara smiled without sorrow at her memories which were very real and which sustained her. Only Yvonne and Karen felt chilled to the bone. They wanted to be incredibly moved by Nikki's typical display of free flowing emotion and wished that they could be inside the magic world that Nikki conjured up so powerfully. More than any other time, they wished that they could close their eyes and not see and feel the darkness that the negation of this conjured up. If only life were that easy.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Six
It took Karen only two more days to come to the realisation that she needed to talk about what she'd done for Jo, and not just to anyone, but to someone who would fully understand the magnitude of what she had done. It wasn't usually in Karen's nature to want to confess her sins, but this time was very different. When she turned up on Ric's doorstep therefore, she had to wonder at the sanity of being there in the first place.
"This is a nice surprise," Ric said as he opened the door to her, Karen never having seen inside his current abode. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
"I need to tell you something," Karen began a little cautiously. "After which I think you will quite rightly tell me just how stupid I am." They were upstairs in his bedsit by this time, and Ric gestured to the sofa for her to sit down.
"Wine, scotch, or coffee?" He offered, seeing that she looked incredibly tense, and perhaps even frightened of whatever it was she had to tell him.
"Scotch, if you have any," She replied, knowing that if there had ever been a time when she really needed some Dutch courage, now was that time. After pouring both Karen and himself a large dose of the amber-coloured liquid, he sat down next to her, pushed an ashtray towards her and simply waited for her to start.
"Not too long ago," she began after taking a swig of her scotch. "John came to see me because he was convinced that Jo had, or has, a drink problem. There wasn't much I could suggest, apart from his actually talking to her about it. I've no idea whether or not he did, but I suspect he did. John is currently away at the Human Rights seminar in Milan, and last Friday night, Jo took an overdose."
"Well, she didn't get admitted to St. Mary's, so she must have gone somewhere else," Was Ric's reply.
"She didn't get admitted anywhere," Karen told him quietly. "She got treated at home." Ric stared at her, far too many things were being added up in his brain, leading him to the conclusion that he honestly didn't want to face.
"Am I to assume that Jo Mills was treated for an overdose, by a nurse, a fully-qualified one admittedly, but a nurse nevertheless? Not to mention the fact that you are certainly not qualified to make the types of decisions that may arise in such a situation?"
"What do you want me to say?" Karen asked him. "Yes, I treated her myself, having obtained the necessary drugs from Larkhall's hospital wing."
"With the help and say so of your resident doctor?" Ric demanded, his ire rising at the utter incongruity of the situation.
"Yes," Karen replied, hoping against hope that Ric didn't go looking for the name of her resident doctor in order to make this official.
"Start at the beginning," He said, sounding half-exasperated, and half-proud of her achievement.
"I was closeted in my office with our resident doctor, whose name I am not about to give you, when I received a phone call from George. She told me that she thought Jo had taken an overdose, and I was all for getting her to a hospital, but George refused, pointing out what a section would do to a QC's reputation. Please don't say it, because I know that a person's life is far more important than their professional reputation, but our doctor agreed with George, which was certainly something of a surprise. So, he supplied me with everything I might need, bar a defibrillator, and as he was on duty, this was something I had to sort out myself."
"And did you?" Ric asked, not unkindly.
"Yes, though there were a few fraught moments. I had to give her a shot of adrenaline because her pulse rate had gone down to 48 beats per minute. That was a bit scary to say the least."
"What did she overdose on?"
"Alcohol and sleeping pills, a lethal combination that we used to see nearly three times a week when I was working with you all those years ago."
"Karen," Ric said carefully. "I'm not going to tell you how stupid such a course of action was, because I think you already know that. You aren't exactly without intelligence, so you will be aware that should this ever come to light in any official sense, both you and your resident hero would lose your registration. Now, that won't happen through me, but only because I am assuming that Jo is to all intents and purposes all right. If she wasn't, then that would be a different matter altogether."
"I know," Karen replied in a tight little voice. "But I couldn't just let her die. I couldn't just sit there and refuse to help, because it might have meant me losing my registration. I had the knowledge and the drugs with which to help her, neither of which I had with Ross. I had no idea that he was contemplating killing himself until he'd actually succeeded, so there was absolutely nothing I could do to help him. But I could help Jo, so I had to do it."
Ric had been pacing the room as he'd listened to her explanations, but when he heard the words of a grieving mother accompanied by the tears that were now drenching her cheeks, he realised that Jo wasn't really the root of the problem, but the death of her son the year before. Sitting down next to her on the sofa, he put his arms round her and silently held her, trying to offer what comfort he possibly could.
"You did this for Jo because you couldn't do the same for Ross, didn't you."
"It sounds stupid, doesn't it," Karen replied through her tears, always having felt safe and secure in this man's arms.
"No, of course it doesn't," Ric told her gently. "But in this job, you need to be able to detach yourself from any feelings you might have. Emotions, especially that of unresolved grief, have a tendency to enable us to make decisions that we wouldn't otherwise even entertain. Now, whilst part of me could cheerfully wring your neck for trying to act the doctor you certainly aren't, I do understand why you did it. But under no circumstances must you do anything of the kind again. I have a deep-seted wish that one day, maybe in a few years time, you will come back to nursing, and work with me as you did before. You did the nursing profession a great disservice when you left it, because caring for people, and helping to cure them of whatever disease or injury they came in with, was and I suspect always will be what you do best. I have no idea just how much impromptu nursing you have had to do during your stint in the prison service, but I also suspect that when it has been a necessity, you have risen to the challenge admirably."
"Delivering babies and dealing with those who cut themselves has been the extent of my nursing involvement with inmates," Karen replied with a watery smile.
"I wouldn't have thought that delivering babies was a usual occurrence," Ric said with some surprise.
"Oh yes," Karen assured him. "I have delivered a baby in a cell before now, and the medical team only arrived when it was all over."
They sat in contented silence for a while, their old familiar position of having their arms around each other being something that neither felt needed any comment.
"There is one thing that I would like you to do for me," Ric said eventually, getting them both back onto a professional footing. "I need you to ask Jo to come and see me. There's no telling what damage she might have done to her liver in all this."
"I took blood samples for LFT's and Creatonine, so the results ought to be available by now."
"Well, I'll check that out in the morning, but as I have a liver clinic tomorrow afternoon, that would be the best time for Jo to come and see me, as I'll be in theatre all morning. Did you write a report on everything you did, what drugs you used and so on?"
"Of course I did," She said a little defensively. "Even if this wasn't going to go official, I wasn't going to be accused of not doing my job properly."
"That sounds like the Karen Betts I know," He said with a smile. "Always sticking to protocol where possible."
"That's hardly what I did last Friday night, now is it," She said in slight disgust.
"No, but most people break the rules somewhere along the line, just not usually so spectacularly. Does the Judge know about this yet?"
"No," Karen said with a slight frown. "And I'm dreading the reaction he is bound to have when he is told. That isn't going to be either quiet or restrained if I know John."
Part One Hundred and Eighty Seven
The dilemma continued to haunt Jo, as she could hear competing and opposing voices echoing round and round at the back of her head. Her first thought was telling John set her into a blind panic, both for herself and for John at the way he would react. She could not get away from the fact that, if she chose to tell John, her previous actions would be directly responsible for John reliving the trauma of when his mother committed suicide. She knew only too well that the fact that Jo had survived would cut no ice with him. That blind fear of losing her would let his anger take charge of him straightaway like a runaway train. On the other hand, she couldn't help but hear Karen's pleas to tell John, no matter how hard it might be. She could sense that, if John weren't told, they would irrevocably commit themselves to a lifetime's silence and what would happen if John finally found out years down the line. She had understood how much as a shock to his system to hear that he had been adopted only when he was in his fifties. Her mindset abruptly reversed course and seized upon her new resolve. Everything else was blotted out, had to be blotted out. After all, she was most comfortable with upholding the truth and doing what she had thought of as the right thing, for the long haul in life.
She resolved to seek out George and speak to her about the matter, the one other person most at the centre of their relationship. Even though it was summer, the weather was unusually blustery and cold and a cold blast of air greeted Jo as she stepped out of her car to greet George at her expensively furnished office right by Knightsbridge. She had mixed feelings about the visit. On the positive side were the nearby shops, which she could be persuaded to spend some spare time to browse round. On the negative side was Jo's fear of telling George of her intension to tell John about her overdose and what led up to it. Yes, she could understand George being protective of John on his behalf, but surely George didn't have a monopoly on this feeling? Why was she seeking clash of wills, she might ask herself? Her only answer was that she eagerly sought to bury at last all the arguments had been running round at a furious speed like a mouse inside a revolving wheel. She had to resolve them somehow, rather than stew over the whole thing.
"Mind if I smoke?" came Jo's terse greeting. Even though it was four days since her overdose, Jo was still not her usual self.
"Feel free, Jo. The politically correct police squad aren't here to batter down my front door to stop you."
It was on the tip of Jo's tongue to refer to John in their habitually bantering way until she stopped short and coloured at the memory of her recent overdose. It had diminished her own self-image, and feelings of her own unworthiness washed over making it impossible for her to criticise others, even in jest. Instead, she fumbled blindly for her handbag, muttering to herself in irritation as the zip jammed while George maintained a tactful silence. Eventually she found her lighter and packet of cigarettes, offered one to George who accepted it more out of diplomacy than anything else. She inhaled deeply and blew a cloud of smoke into the air while George's cigarette smouldered away.
"I thought I'd let you know that I've made up my mind to tell John what's gone on recently. I owe it to him to be honest with him and not to leave him totally in the dark."
George instantly stubbed out her cigarette. This was what she had dreaded. This was Jo all over at her worst.
"Do you really think that honesty and sincerity is all that matters in life, Jo."
"That's the way I've always led my life," Jo replied stiffly."It normally works for me."
"'A little sincerity can be a dangerous thing and a great deal of it, absolutely fatal.' Oscar Wilde. Try his insight for size."
"I could never understand what he was getting at. The man always struck me as a hopeless cynic."
Though George truly loved Jo, her own illness did not find her at her most patient and her attitude was beginning to irritate her. Jo was conveniently overlooking her concealment of her own alcohol intake but she let the matter pass.
"It means, darling, that you have to think very carefully of the impact of your 'sincerity' before you dare to inflict it on somebody else. You have to consider the other person's feelings and just what the reaction will be to your 'honesty' and 'sincerity'. Besides, there are ways and means of saying things. It's all about compassion at the end of the day."
"George, you are being so short sighted. OK, suppose I accept what you say for the sake of argument and keep quiet about the matter, then what happens three months down the line? Or six months? This sort of thing can go on forever. I am having nothing to do with
any cover up even if you're comfortable with the idea."
"Oh so exactly what are you going to say to him? I notice in your opening remark how coy you were about describing your OD. If you have trouble talking to me about it who was there at the time, how much more likely are you to be relaxed in telling John who wasn't there?"
"That is not the point. George, I know you mean well but you are simply muddying the waters."
"Jo, watch my lips. They are well and truly muddied already. There are no grand sweeping answers. Surely you must see that."
Jo shook her head in confusion. After she had psyched herself up to the most fearful decision she had ever made in her life, George's attitude seemed perverse in whittling away at her justification and confusing her mind.
"You're forgetting one thing, George. Karen is insistent that I tell John because if I had succeeded in doing what I intended to do, then John would be reliving his worst nightmare if things had worked out differently ."
"Karen is right about John's feelings, Jo but what on earth has that got to do with whether you tell him? I know what Karen wants you to do but that doesn't mean that you should do it. She told me that she can't keep quiet about it for long. In other words, she's scared about appearing to cover the whole thing up. I agree that there is something in how she feels about that. The bottom line is how on earth you can tell John exactly what you've done, especially with what happened to his mother . What sort of guilt are you going to land him with, Jo? Just think carefully."
"All you've asked me to do is to delay telling John till some time in the future and wrap it up in a sugar pill. That can't be done and you know that, George. I'm going to do what has to be done and not because Karen is telling me to. " Jo answered in steely determined tones.
A wave of weakness flowed through George. She wasn't really up to handling such an intense argument about matters that came close to home. Jo's mulish streak had worn down her strength right now. It felt to her that the more that she had tried to push Jo in one direction, she had only pushed back in the opposite direction even harder. Her panic fear for John's state of mind froze over that fluid capacity to reason. She gave up at that point.
Just then, a shaft of sunlight shone through her window of opportunity down onto the streets below. It all looked pretty washed out to her.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Eight
On the Wednesday afternoon, Jo picked up Karen's report of her overdose which Karen had e-mailed to her that morning, and got into her car to drive to St. Mary's hospital. Karen had explained on the phone to her why Ric wanted to see her, and Jo had been forced to agree with her. She might not like the idea of someone in Ric's position knowing about her stupid mistake, but she did trust him. He had after all treated George with the utmost skill and professionalism, and she didn't doubt that he would do the same with her. The hustle and bustle of the NHS hospital was far removed from the quiet, almost peaceful quality of the Haddlington where George had spent those few days for her surgery and for those interminable sessions of chemotherapy. But this was where Ric had asked to see her, because this was where he was holding his liver clinic. After pulling up in the car park, she clutched Karen's report to her and traversed the long and winding corridors and took a lift up to the fifth floor and Keller ward.
She was greeted by a woman whose name badge said Sr. Lisa Fox.
"If you'll take a seat over there," Lisa told her, gesturing to a row of chairs. "Mr. Griffin will be with you in a while. You are his last patient of the afternoon so he shouldn't be too long." Doing as she was bidden, Jo took a seat, half of her cringing away from the possibility that either Zubin or Tom might come across her here. As though her thoughts had conjured up his presence, she suddenly saw Tom and Connie Beauchamp come out of an office down the corridor, clearly in the middle of some argument and thankfully not taking a blind bit of notice of anyone around them. But she had reckoned without Tom's or Connie's ability to see anything out of the ordinary at a mere glance. Before Tom could open his mouth to speak to Jo, he thought better of it. She might not want him to know she was here, for whatever reason, so he should leave it up to her to speak to him if she wanted to do so. But just to satisfy his curiosity, he leaned over the desk, and infuriated Lisa by removing the appointment book to see what type of problem Jo Mills might be here for.
"Tom," Lisa protested. "You could just ask to see the appointment book."
"Ah, but then you wouldn't give it to me, would you," Tom replied with a playful smirk, glancing down at Ric's clinic list for the afternoon, and seeing that it was for liver complaints.
"No, you're dead right I wouldn't," Lisa said, taking the book back and hiding it in the top drawer of the desk. "Well, did you find out what you wanted to know?"
"I did, Lisa, thank you," Tom replied amiably, walking towards his office. A liver problem, well, that was hardly a surprise where Jo Mills was concerned, now was it. He could remember that day in the middle of Barbara Mills' trial. It had been his morning to take the stand, and he had come across Jo Mills standing outside the court, smoking and looking distinctly hung over. When he had tentatively asked her about it, she hadn't tried to hide it from him, but perhaps that was because she was aware of his own problem with alcohol. Well, perhaps he might just ask Ric about this later.
"Mrs. Mills, would you like to come in?" The pleasant, well-remembered voice was a shock to Jo, as she had been submerged in her own thoughts until he had spoken to her. Picking up Karen's report, she walked to where Ric was standing in an open doorway. He could see immediately that she would rather be anywhere else than where she was at the present time. When he had closed the door behind her, he told her to sit in the chair in front of the desk. Taking the chair opposite to her, Ric wondered how to begin this very difficult conversation.
"First of all," He told her gently but firmly. "I don't want you to blame Karen for my now being aware of what happened last Friday night."
"I don't," Jo said in surprise, not having expected anything like this as an opening gambit in the slightest.
"She needed to talk about what she'd done, to someone who would entirely understand the consequences had she not succeeded."
"I do know just how difficult it was for her," Jo said quietly. "Something I will always regret."
"And do you regret what you tried to do?" Ric asked her, now coming straight to the heart of the matter. Jo had to think about this, because she really wasn't sure.
"I can't say that I'll never want to do it again," She said eventually. "But I don't think I am very likely to put any thoughts along those lines into practice, now that I know what is involved in dealing with it."
"That is entirely the kind of answer I would expect from a lawyer," Ric replied with a slight smile. "Now, having obtained a copy of your blood results, you can be somewhat relieved that your kidneys are still functioning normally, but the results of your Liver Function Test do warrant further investigation."
"Karen asked me to bring you this," Jo said, handing over the copy of Karen's report. "She said that you would need to know what drugs I had been given and in what quantities." Ric took the report, and spent a few minutes reading it through, marvelling at the lengths Karen had gone to, and the sheer risks she had taken.
"That's fine," he said, eventually putting it down. "But what I need to do now, is to take a closer look at your liver. We can do this by an ultrasound scan. Do you have any objection to my registrar, Diane Lloyd, being present for this?"
"None at all," Jo replied, only now taking notice of the ultrasound machine in the corner of the room beside an examination couch. Sticking his head out of the door, Ric called down the corridor to where he could see Diane standing at the nurses' station, and asked her to join him so that they could begin.
When Diane appeared, Jo barely noticed how pretty she was. God, how could she have been so stupid? How could she have been so stupid as to possibly screw up her liver? If she had managed to do herself any damage in the process, John really would be furious with her, but then he was going to be angry enough already. Diane took in Jo's uneasiness, and strove to act in as professional a manner as possible. Ric briefly gave her the bare facts of the case, leaving out any names that might get Karen into trouble. Diane had a tendency to want to go official about things like this, something Karen could ill afford.
"Please can you remove your blouse and bra?" Diane asked her. "And then lie down on the table." Once Jo had complied with this request, Diane informed her that she would now apply some contact gel to the skin in the area of Jo's liver, which would enable the transducer to give them a picture of what was going on inside. She asked Jo to turn on her left side, so that the picture would hopefully be clearer. Ric allowed Diane to get on with it, only occasionally providing a little guidance.
"Jo," Diane eventually asked. "How long would you say that you've had a problem with alcohol?"
"I've had the occasional, binge I think they call it these days, usually after a particularly harrowing trial."
"You're a lawyer," Diane stated with a smile. "That ought to keep you on your toes, Ric," She added with a smirk in his direction.
"Today isn't the first time I have met Mrs. Mills," Ric informed her. Then, turning to Jo, he asked, "Was it George's breast cancer that made everything a little harder to deal with?"
"I think that was part of it," Jo admitted, feeling thoroughly stupid. "But it all started to go wrong before that, during the trial that your friend Professor Khan was involved in."
"Was that the same one as Tom and Connie?" Diane asked, now really curious about this woman.
"Yes," Jo told her with a slight smile. "It's fair to say that I found that trial far more stressful than I normally would."
"Why?" Diane asked, not meaning to be intrusive but succeeding nevertheless.
"I don't think you need to know that," Jo told her quietly. "So, are you going to tell me what you've found?"
"Get dressed and then I'll show you," Ric told her, but then he changed his mind. "Actually, Diane, if you will do the honours, I'll try and chase up that last set of blood results." Knowing that this was Ric's way of telling her he needed to do something that he didn't want their patient to know about, she agreed.
Once Ric had gone, Diane gestured for Jo to join her at the screen of the ultrasound machine.
"You see there," She said, moving the picture of Jo's liver into clearer focus. "Where the surface of the liver is slightly puckered? That shows us that you do have the very beginnings of cirrhosis, but that we have hopefully caught it before there is any irreparable damage. What it really means for you though, is that under no circumstances must you ever drink alcohol again. I'm not just talking for a month, or a year, but for the rest of your life. It may seem a little trite of me to say that you have been extremely lucky, but you have. You may not feel that you want it, but you have been given a second chance, not something that ought to be wasted."
"I do understand," Jo assured her. "But I think I saw an overdose as the only way to stop drinking."
"That's not unusual," Diane told her, perching on the edge of the examination table whilst Jo sat in a chair. "I once knew someone with a gambling addiction," She said, talking about Ric though not revealing his name. "He'd always been a pretty reckless gambler, but when he realised that I'd terminated another man's child instead of actually having his, the gambling suddenly got worse. It was like watching a car crash happening in slow motion."
"I think that's what it was like for John and George," Jo said without thinking. "Get Ric to explain that one to you," She added a little hurriedly.
"The point is," Diane continued. "That he did eventually manage to kick the habit. Admittedly, after causing several people an enormous amount of pain, and just because he has managed to stop, doesn't mean that he doesn't occasionally go back to it. But you can stop drinking, if you have the right support and enough fight left in you to try."
Walking hurriedly down the corridor, Ric knocked on the door of Tom's office. Being bade to come in, he opened the door and closed it behind him.
"Ric, you don't normally come seeking my company, what can I do for you?"
"I have Jo Mills in my consulting room, and I need your help."
"Yes," Tom replied thoughtfully. "I had noticed that she was here."
"Tom, she's here because she has a drink problem, and because a few days ago, she took an overdose."
"Not Jo Mills. Are you serious?"
"Very," Ric said with a heavy sigh. "I've given her an ultrasound and she does have the beginnings of cirrhosis, but I'm hoping that we've just about caught it in time."
"And you want me to talk to her," Tom deduced.
"If you would," Ric replied gratefully. "You are after all the resident expert on alcoholism."
"Thank you very much for reminding me," Tom said drolly. "But yes, I'll talk to her, and I won't let her know that you've told me."
When Jo finally left Ric's and Diane's clutches, she walked along the corridor feeling very much detached from her usual self. Today had been one of the weirdest days she'd had in a long time, and it wasn't even over yet.
"Jo?" She turned at the voice calling her from a nearby office. Walking to the open door, she saw that it was Tom's.
"Tom," She said, standing in the doorway and being wholly unable to think of anything to say.
"I thought you might have a coffee with me before you went home," he said, telling her immediately that he had known of her appointment with Ric.
"Yes, all right," She said a little hesitantly. Installing her in the visitors' chair in front of his desk, he left to make them both a coffee. When he returned, he put the mugs down on the desk and closed his office door.
"So, how'd it go?" he asked, sitting back down behind his desk.
"I have just been told that I have mild cirrhosis, but I suspect you knew that."
"I certainly wondered why you were here," He said quietly, neither confirming nor denying her assertion. "Do you want to tell me why you have cirrhosis?"
"Tom, you know why," Jo insisted vehemently. "It's because I drink too much, it's because I can't seem to find solace in anything else but scotch, and it's because I stupidly thought that killing myself was the only answer." Jo stopped, utterly stunned by her unexpected outburst. Bitter tears had risen to her eyes because she felt so stupid, so feckless. Getting up from behind his desk, Tom walked round to her, gently pulled her up from her chair, and put his arms around her. "I feel so stupid," She said, her tears now coming thick and fast.
"I know," He told her gently. "I've been there too, Jo, and I know that it's complete and utter hell."
"George was so angry with me," Jo continued, no longer caring that she was clinging to someone she had only previously known in a professional context. "Quite how someone can be angry and kind at the same time is beyond me."
"It sounds as though you're lucky to have her," Tom said thoughtfully, gently rubbing her back to try and calm her down, though he did understand the need for the occasional outburst. As she stood there, cocooned in this man's embrace, and seeming to shed through her tears, at least a portion of the weight of guilt that had been pressing down on her for far too long.
Part One Hundred and Eighty Nine
Despite Jo's obstinacy, the moment that George had gone out of the door, Jo could feel her resolution to tell John of her mistake starting to wane. The enormity of the task in hand started to hit her and, in the forefront, were the stacked up images in her mind of how his mother had taken her own life. She hadn't really intended to do the same but, in the cold light of day, she had to admit that, but for George's instinct and Karen's nursing, she may well have not have come through the night. Her sense of logic could not dodge the inevitable comparisons and it scared her rigid.
For the next four days, she slogged her way through her court cases, and sweated through the very real fear of wondering just what she would say to John and how she would react to it. Only on Thursday morning did the light start to dawn when she and George were both opening their lockers to pick up the gowns and wigs of their trade.
"Do you want to cadge a lift from me from your flat and we'll go on and pick up John from the airport. We'll drive him to your flat and I'll disappear while you tell John the news."
"That would be a marvellous idea, George." Jo responded enthusiastically to George's briskly organized plan. She very much needed that kind of helpful attitude even if she knew that George hadn't changed her opinion on her self-imposed errand. She turned round to face George who was half looking in her direction. "I could do with your presence .I think that I would find it reassuring."
"You surely don't think that, just because I don't exactly agree with your decision, I would turn my back on you and just let you struggle on by yourself."
It was not the place to exchange warm affectionate hugs, as there was always a constant influx of other barristers into the locker room. A wide smile on Jo's face and a warm glow in Jo's eyes expressed all the thanks that she could possibly have given.
It was on Friday that John's passenger jet was due to settle down to earth after hours of being burnished by the fierce sun up in the Olympian heights and not a trace of a cloud to spoil the perfect map laid out below him. Jo and George by contrast crawled along the ground to the busy airport to wait patiently for John's arrival through customs. When they did pick him out from the multitudes ,it gave them both a pang to catch the first sight of a very sun tanned, relaxed looking John. He greeted them with an affectionate hug and a kiss each. It all looked very natural to the casual observers in the airport lounge as a distinguished looking man with graying hair led the way, accompanied by two very attractive blond haired women who were clearly fond of him. It even looked natural enough to George, as she smiled and chattered away to John. After loading his luggage into George's convertible, John was grateful to lay back in the front passenger seat, his hand trailing over the edge of the door and let the sun and the wind ruffle his hair. It all helped to smooth away the discomforts of the flight and make him feel that everything was being taken care of in his life. At last he could feel centred in his life after being away from home.
"It is marvellous to see you both again and such a treat for both of you to fetch me from the airport," John said at last when his luggage was finally loaded in the boot.
"We both know how you are fearful of your pride and joy risking being scratched or dented by some careless boy racer of a driver," George responded with perfect aplomb. "You know they say about the relationship between a man and his car and exactly what part of the human body it symbolizes."
God, how does George do it, Jo wondered, as she stayed rather monosyllabic in the background? She did not mind in the least being upstaged.
"So where in the scheme of things does this very racy sporty car figure in the days of women's equality," Came John's silky smooth riposte.
"The answer to that one is that my car doesn't. It just is."
To emphasise her point, George revved up the engine, pirouetted it smartly to head for the exit and cut her way to the front of the shortest queue for the car park barrier.
Jo sat back in the back while John and George carried on their verbal sparring match in the front. If it weren't for the darkness within Jo's soul and recent memories, this would be one of those lazy, scorching hot summer days meant for nothing in particular, as all three of them had some spare time on their hands for once.
"Oh, I see that we are going to Jo's flat," remarked John as they sped out onto the open road.
"Oh yes, well we thought we'd pop in and drop all of your belongings at your flat a little while later." George answered rapidly with hardly a flicker.
The drive carried on in this fashion. As Jo was in the back seat, she could get away with her silence. At the other end of the journey, John grabbed a light hold all in which he had placed the holiday souvenirs. He remembered afterwards that he had the full intention of showing Jo and George the fruits of his stay in Milan.
Before he had a chance to present his exhibition, Jo coughed fairly prominently and two pairs of eyes were upon her. The three of them were suddenly frozen like statues in the middle of Jo's living room. George looked sideways at her and a look of guilt flashed across her face. A nasty feeling rose up in John's throat that he was about to hear something that was totally earth shattering. It had all been so sunny and friendly, only a few split seconds ago.
"I'll just run your cases over to your flat, John. I think Jo has something to say to you."
"John," Jo started to say in very hesitant tones, "There is something you have to know, something that happened while you were away."
George slipped out of the front door while a very nervous, white faced Jo stood in front of him and hesitated a second before she began to speak. Jo must have fallen in love with someone else, his shrill nerves screamed at him.
"I did something very stupid while I was away. I've been feeling very depressed recently and I've having some problems in getting to sleep .".
This doesn't make sense, John told himself. This conversation had veered onto a completely unexpected path.
" ..so I went to my GP who prescribed me some sleeping tablets to settle me to sleep so I can be reasonably fresh in the morning for work. I made a stupid mistake and didn't check the instructions properly. The long and short of it all is," continued Jo, clapping her hands together,"was that I had a few drinks in the evening and dozed off on the sofa. The next I knew was that I vaguely heard Karen's voice in my dreams and that she was shining a light into my eyes "
" I don't understand. I don't believe it " John started to say in an agitated tone of voice, shaking his head and starting to pace around.
"John, I'm really sorry to tell you that it did happen. I couldn't in all conscience carry on and pretend that it never happened."
"I must be hearing things. No no, this can't be true."
"I would want more than anything in the world to say that it didn't happen but I have to tell you that it did," Jo answered almost in a frozen whisper.
"So when did this all happen?"
"Last Friday," mumbled Jo.
"You mean the day after I went to Milan. So what happened next?" a disembodied voice that sounded like his own was heard to say. Even in a crisis like this, that instinct to investigate the truth operated blindly, without any ulterior purpose.
"George came over and fetched Karen and Yvonne with her."
"To do what?"
"To give me urgent medical attention."
"Karen? On her own? I grant you that she may have been a capable nurse but even I know very well that she was out of her depth "
"She was on the phone to the SMO at Larkhall Prison to advise her."
The words sounded impossibly lame in Jo's ears so God knows what it sounded to John. She dared not think of this.
"This was most foolish and reckless of her. Surely the three of you, some of the most intelligent women that I have ever known couldn't possibly have acted in this way. Why didn't Karen just dial 999 and go with you to hospital, like any sensible person would have done?" exploded John. His anger had to be discharged at Karen since he felt strangled up inside by his undying love for Jo and the pain that she had put them both through. There was nothing in the English language that could have remotely done justice to the feelings that rose up inside him and threatened to engulf him.
"Because once the official due process runs its course with hospitals and psychiatrists, then my career is blighted with what's on my record."
"Your career? What about your life?" John burst out. "Surely that matters more than anything else in this world. Do you also know what this means to me personally? You know what happened to my mother and why the word 'suicide' has always, always sounded so ugly in my ear, like the ultimate obscenity. It's about who's left behind. It's not fair on them."
Ordinarily, the words and the delivery would have come over as adult aggression. Even while Jo was traumatized to the spot, she had that curious feeling that the John Deed who had shrank into the sofa wasn't the same suave languid man of the world that she had always known but someone different.
"John, I'm really sorry for you, for everyone whom I've caused any pain to. I must have been selfish and not thinking straight." Jo confessed, her voice choked with emotion.
"You must forgive me for being somewhat emotional about the matter," John suddenly said in curiously calm tones. He lay back on the sofa, looking dishevelled in precisely the same place as Jo had been only a week ago. "It must have taken a certain amount of courage to tell me this. At least you are well and alive right now .There are a few matters I want to get clear in my head and , as by all accounts, you were only half conscious with all the activity going on around you, I need to talk to whoever was in charge and bears responsibility for the very dangerous position you were placed in. I'm taking a taxi to Karen's and, by God, she had better have some proper answers."
It was the sudden erupting violence of John's anger directed at Karen that undid all the good work of his generosity that John had belatedly trying to do. Jo stood helplessly watching on as John flew out of the door.
Part One Hundred and Ninety
As the taxi drove John towards Karen's flat, he found himself having to restrain the urge to tell the driver to put his foot down. But when they arrived and John had paid him, he stood in the street, trying to battle his anger into something a little more controlled, but this wasn't to be. Karen was the one who had ultimately taken such a risk with his precious Jo's life, and she would have to provide him with some very good explanations if she didn't want his anger to burst over her in a tidal wave that might rock her off her feet.
Karen wasn't in the least surprised to see John on her doorstep. She had known that he was due back from Milan today, and she also knew that either Jo or George would have told him about what had happened the week before.
"Come in," She said, taking note of the pulse that was rapidly beating at his temples. "Before you have a coronary on my doorstep."
"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you," He found himself saying. "People being in life threatening positions and asking for your help."
"Seeing as I worked as a nurse for about eight years, yes, I would," she countered back, knowing that he needed to get this out of his system, but also unwilling to go down without a fight.
"That isn't what I'm talking about and you know it," John replied angrily, barely taking notice of Yvonne's presence at one end of the sofa.
"Have you got something constructive to say, or have you just come here to shout at me?" Karen demanded, feeling in the mood for giving him the fight he was quite obviously looking for.
"How could you?" He continued furiously. "How could you take such a dangerous risk with someone I love?"
"Oh, so it would have been perfectly okay to do that with someone you didn't love?" Quipped back Karen, her very unwise responses slipping out before they could be curtailed.
"Don't be flippant!" He all but roared at her.
"So what was I supposed to do," Karen demanded, returning to the seriousness of the situation. "Just stay away and let her die? She might not have admitted it to you, John, but she meant to do it. I had to help her, I had to do anything I possibly could to save her life. Is that so difficult to understand?"
"Yes," he persisted scornfully. "The correct course of action would have been to get her to a hospital as quickly as possible, not to mess around playing Florence Nightingale with a first class degree in cover ups. So, are you going to tell me why? And I'm not asking for any more chivalrous patter about saving someone's life."
In the resulting silence, that seemed to throb with all the unresolved feelings that were circulating the room, Karen sat down on the other end of the sofa to Yvonne and lit a cigarette.
"When George phoned me," she began. "I told her that she had to get Jo to the nearest hospital. But George refused, using the fact that a section wouldn't exactly do a lot for Jo's career as a reason for not going down the official route. I had Thomas Waugh with me at the time, and much to my astonishment, he agreed with her."
"Then he should be struck off," John put in venomously, pacing the length of the room as he listened.
"Don't be ridiculous," Karen told him scornfully. "If it wasn't for Thomas giving me the necessary drugs and implements from Larkhall's hospital wing, Jo would in all likelihood be dead now." John flinched as she said this, but Karen had to give him the full, unvarnished truth.
"Did it never occur to you," he asked, trying to put his fury back on its leash. "That Jo's career doesn't bear any importance whatsoever when compared to her life?"
"John, I fully appreciate that that's how you see it, and to a major extent I agree with you. But I know only too well how important a career is when the rest of your life is not going to plan. It's the one thing you cling to, because it's the one area of your life that tends to remain on something of an even keel. I did what I did last Friday because it was purely instinctive to do what I could to save Jo's life. Yes, it was difficult, and yes it was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done, but it worked, and she is alive."
"But you still shouldn't have taken that risk," He insisted, now unable to stop the thoughts from going round and round in his head, some of them making it out of his mouth. "Jo is the most precious thing in my life. She is what makes my life worth living. If I ever lost her, I wouldn't be able to survive."
"Don't you think Karen knows that?" Yvonne suddenly put in, bringing both their eyes on her.
"Yvonne, I would rather you kept out of this," John replied, a little quieter than his previous outburst.
"Don't talk bollocks," Yvonne told him succinctly. "I was there, remember, along with Karen and George because they needed my help."
"So I've you to thank for this utter debacle as well?"
"You self-righteous bastard," Yvonne replied scornfully. "Karen did everything she possibly could last Friday night, purely and simply because she does know how much you love Jo."
"Leave it, Yvonne," Karen said quietly, all the fight seeming to have gone out of her.
"No way," Yvonne said the flash of determination dancing in her eyes. "It's about time he knew just what lengths you went to." Then, turning back to John, she said, "Karen did the job of three possibly four people in trying to save Jo's life, something she would never have been expected to do in a professional setting. Karen pushed her skills and knowledge to the limit last Friday night, trying her damnedest to save the life of a friend. No matter how shit scared Karen was last Friday, she didn't reveal it to any of us. Not once did Karen admit to just how terrified she was, because she knew it wouldn't do any good. You can't blame Karen for this, John, and you certainly can't blame either George or me. Jo took that overdose, not me, not Karen, not George, but Jo. I suspect that she's fed you a line about how she accidentally took too many sleeping pills, but there was nothing accidental about what she did."
"Yvonne!" Karen protested, not wanting John to be force-fed something that he currently didn't want to hear.
"He has to accept it, you know that," Yvonne told her firmly. "And it's about time that you started appreciating what a friend like Karen will do for you in a crisis," She told John smartly. "Karen didn't have to do that for Jo, she could have passed the responsibility onto someone else, but she didn't, and it's about bloody time you acknowledged that."
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