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Jo Bettany lay in bed staring at the ceiling. She had been in the Sanatorium for a week, now, and was finding that time was passing extremely slowly. She wasn’t allowed to sit up, read or do anything which might make her lungs work harder than necessary. As she looked around the room, she saw how impersonal it was. The room was sparsely furnished and nothing personal to indicate the room was occupied.

Jo sighed. Not being allowed to read was the worst part of all this and she knew she had brought it on herself. If only she had said something at the beginning, when she couldn’t shift the persistent cough she had had all summer. Instead, she had devised elaborate tactics to avoid Jem and Jack and hide her illness. Tears pricked the back of her eyes, though she tried not to let them fall, knowing they wouldn’t help her in her current predicament.

The door opened and Jack slipped into the room. Jo didn’t move, just continued to stare up at the ceiling. Jack could see she was lost in her own world, but he’d noticed her becoming even more withdrawn since she’d been told the diagnosis. He knew how lonely she would be finding it, especially when she wasn’t permitted to do anything for herself. For as long as he’d known her, he’d always seen her with her friends or family, very rarely alone. He realised how hard she was finding the enforced isolation, even though he knew it was necessary to prevent the spread of infection. Having finished his shift for the day, he had just intended to say goodbye and disappear, but the look of sheer loneliness on her face, compelled him to cross the room to sit down next to her.

“Penny for them, Jo?” His voice sounded loud in the silence of the room. He thought he saw a glimmer of a smile cross Jo’s face, but it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

“I don’t think they’re worth half that.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re worth double. Try me.”

“I just don’t know how I’m going to cope just lying here, not even allowed to read. I keep thinking that I should have just said something when it first happened.”

“Jo, there’s no point brooding on it. What’s done is done. You can’t change it. I know you’re finding it hard being stuck in here, unable to do anything, but it has to be this way for now. If you ever just want someone to talk to, or just some company, tell me and I’ll see what I can do. When I’m not working, of course. Get some rest, and see what tomorrow brings. I’ll stay with you till you sleep, if you want?” This time he definitely saw the glimmer of a smile cross her face.

“Thank you, Jack. I’d like that.” Jo closed her eyes and Jack settled himself more comfortably in the chair. He watched Jo as she lay in the bed and wished he could hold her. He knew it wasn’t possible, though. She had no idea of his feelings for her and would, in all probability, have rejected his overtures under normal circumstances. He knew he would just have to be patient. Glancing over at Jo, he realised she was sleeping at last. He stood and moved quietly to the door.

“Goodnight Jo,” he whispered as he slid back through the door and headed towards his car and home. Jo just rolled onto her side and continued to slumber on, her brooding forgotten thanks to the brief talk with Jack.

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