Authors: Gill Sanderson
‘Welcome home, Alice,’ Ben said. ‘It’s so good to see you again.’
He had always had a soft voice. And now the sound of it nearly brought her to tears again. How could she have forgotten this?
Just for a second she wondered what things might have been like if she and Ben had carried on with their plans and… This was madness!
This was no good; she had to get a grip on herself! She was a nurse, a professional, not easily swayed by emotion. Not now, anyway. Not after the past few weeks. Whatever life threw at her—she could cope!
Both were silent a moment, staring at each other. And slowly, silently, she slid back into today, into the real world. But she couldn’t help wondering what he had felt. For a moment she had thought she could see in his eyes something of her own feelings. But that was then and this was now. She looked at him and marvelled at how little he had changed. Had she too changed so little?
, aka Roger Sanderson, started writing as a husband-and-wife team. At first Gill created the storyline, characters and background, asking Roger to help with the actual writing. But her job became more and more time-consuming, and he took over all of the work. He loves it!
Roger has written many Medical™ Romance books for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Ideas come from three of his children—Helen is a midwife, Adam a health visitor, Mark a consultant oncologist. Weekdays are for work; weekends find Roger walking in the Lake District or Wales.
Recent titles by the same author:
A MOTHER FOR HIS SON
NURSE BRIDE, BAYSIDE WEDDING*
THEIR MIRACLE CHILD
A BABY OF THEIR OWN**
THE DOCTOR’S BABY SURPRISE**
A SURGEON, A MIDWIFE: A FAMILY**
Brides of Penhally Bay
Dell Owen Maternity
For Steven James, a real alpha male
could have done without this.
‘Excuse me, but is there a doctor on the plane?’
Alice looked quickly around the cabin. There were a number of concerned faces but no hands were raised. She could feel the embarrassment of the other passengers, many of them staring downwards to avoid the hostess’s eyes. Alice wanted to do the same.
The hostess was young. Trying, as trained, to keep her voice calm but not succeeding. After a moment she spoke again. ‘Well, is there anyone with any kind of medical knowledge?’
It was only a small passenger plane, flying short routes across Scotland, there weren’t many passengers. They would be lucky if one was a doctor. Around her she could feel people stirring uneasily, looking as if to accuse their fellows of being doctors and not owning up to the fact.
Alice didn’t need this. Being ready to help had resulted in her… She was a midwife and a registered children’s nurse, she was not a doctor. Certainly she had some medical skills. But not being insured and trying
to help outside the strict limits of her professional role had caused her to be in this mess. Could she trust the people she was being asked to deal with? Being helpful, relying on trust had just caused her to lose her job. Had also caused her to become disengaged—though that was probably a good thing. In fact, relying on trust was the cause of her coming back to Soalay—the island of her birth. Alice felt she could trust no one.
The silence lengthened and Alice sighed. She just couldn’t sit here if there was someone she might be able to help. Reluctantly, she raised her hand then stood and walked towards the front of the cabin. She saw the hostess’s face light up with hope.
Speaking as quietly as she could, she said, ‘My name’s Alice Muir, I’m not a doctor or a nurse I’m a midwife and a qualified children’s nurse. I’ve got some nursing knowledge but it’s nearly all to do with children.’
In fact, she knew that her general nursing knowledge was quite extensive. But it was as well to explain things clearly from the beginning. ‘What’s the problem?’
The hostess looked at her happily. ‘I’m Angela. I’ve been on a first-aid course but I’ve never had to do anything. I just don’t know. I’m sure you’ll be able to help.’
‘Well, let’s see.’ Alice could feel the curious eyes of the passengers on her, wondering who she was, what she was able to do. She didn’t like it. Too many people had been studying her recently, hoping to see her reactions. Still, she had volunteered. She had to do what she could.
Angela led her to a seat at the front of the cabin.
There was a woman slumped against the tiny window. She was perhaps in her sixties, a thin woman
with a lined, pale face, dressed in an odd-looking long black coat. No one was sitting next to her.
Angela whispered, ‘She seemed very nervous when she got on so I put her in a seat on her own. She doesn’t speak much English—I think she’s Polish or something East European like that. I think this is her first flight ever. She was frightened. I kept an eye on her, but she refused to have a drink or anything, just shook her head. Then I saw that she was unconscious. She is unconscious, isn’t she? Not just asleep?’
‘Sort of half and half,’ Alice said. She put her head close to the woman’s, said in her kindest voice, ‘Hi, there, are you all right? Is there anything I can get you? I’m a nurse.’
There was a reaction of some sort. The woman didn’t open her eyes but mumbled something in a language that certainly wasn’t English. And then her voice just trailed away.
Alice sighed. There wasn’t much to go on. She checked the woman’s wrists to see if there was any kind of bracelet with medical details on it. No. She opened the neck of the black coat to see if there was a locket there with the same information. No again. Alice sighed again.
The next step was to open the woman’s handbag. There were pills there in a little plastic container—but unfortunately the prescription was in Polish. Alice sighed. No simple answer here.
The usual vital ABC check—airways, breathing, circulation. All seemed more or less in order. But the breathing was shallow, the pulse light, the skin cold and
clammy. Alice looked at the woman, shook her head in dismay. She didn’t have the usual array of diagnostic tools and she wasn’t a… Then something struck her. ‘You say she refused a drink?’ she asked Angela.
‘Yes. And we’re supposed to encourage passengers to drink—not alcohol, that is…’ cos…’
‘’Cos of dehydration. I don’t suppose you know if she had a drink while she was waiting to catch the plane?’
‘Well, I did see her before she boarded and there was no drink in her hand. She was just sitting in a corner by herself. She looked ill then.’
‘Go and get me the most sugar-laden soft drink you can find.’
Now, there was something that Angela could recognise. ‘Sugar! You think she’s—’
‘The drink, Angela!’
Angela fetched it. Alice checked the sugar content on the tin and winced. This stuff would rot children’s teeth faster than acid. But for the moment it could be what was wanted. She took the woman’s head in her arm, leaned it back and then dribbled the sweet fruit drink between the half-open lips. Reflexively, the woman choked, and then had to swallow. Alice poured more of the drink into the now open mouth—and the woman moved. Her eyes flashed open.
Alice had heard of this but had never actually seen it. The woman was a diabetic and, presumably because of worry, had not controlled her sugar intake. But the speed at which a diabetic suffering from hypoglycaemia, low blood sugar, could recover was amazing. Two minutes later the woman was sitting upright, clutching
the can of drink in her own hands. She smiled and said something to Alice and Angela.
‘I think we’re being thanked,’ said Alice.
‘I’m glad we didn’t have to make an emergency landing,’ said Angela. ‘There’s only mountains below.’
The immediate emergency was over, there was now time to think. Alice said, ‘This woman isn’t making this trip on her own. There must be someone waiting for her. Can the pilot radio ahead and check at the airport? Broadcast on the PA system. Is there anyone waiting for their grandmother—possibly Polish?’
Angela looked at Alice, open-eyed. ‘I should have thought of that,’ she said. ‘But I’ll see to it at once.’
She came back ten minutes later. ‘Yes, there is a Polish family waiting for a relation and, yes, she is diabetic and they’re worried and they want to know if the plane can fly any faster. But the pilot says it can’t.’
‘It’s an exciting life, being an air hostess,’ said Alice. ‘You carry on with your work and I’ll sit with her.’
It was straightforward after that. The woman held Alice’s hand with a grip like a vice as they landed, her eyes were screwed shut, and she muttered a set of what Alice guessed were prayers. Then Angela asked all the passengers to keep their seats while paramedics came on board and escorted the ill lady off the plane. On a stretcher. Alice was thanked by the plane’s captain and asked if she’d like to be thanked by the Polish family. She said, no, she didn’t want any fuss. Then she saw that both the captain and Angela were a bit disappointed. She had to remember, this was island
Scotland, not London. People held together more. This was a community.
She only had one wheelie bag with her, the rest of her belongings would be coming later. She took a taxi down through the small town to the harbour, calculating that it would be only an hour before the ferry left, she’d be able to get on board.
She stared out of the taxi window, looking at the changes that had been made. She hadn’t been here for fifteen years, there had been progress. For a start, the plane service was new. In the past she had travelled by ferry and then train. And the place looked…brighter.
The taxi was able to drive right onto the quay, and then the driver insisted on carrying her bag onto the ferry. Not the kind of service she’d expect in London. She found herself a seat near the bows, fetched herself a mug of coffee and then sat and relaxed. Or tried to. She had to admit she felt a little better already. And the incident of the plane had, for a while, taken her mind off her own problems.
The last few days—the last few weeks—had been full of stress. But now things should be different. She sat there, happy in the slight breeze of sea air. It smelled good, so different from the fumes of London. She heard the screaming of the gulls, the soft, Western Isles accent. Again, different from polyglot London. And last of all there was the view. For once the sea was blue. The mountains behind the town were green-grey and they were beautiful.
She turned her head and looked out to sea. In the
distance she could see the smudge of land that was Soalay. She was returning to the island of her birth, seeking refuge for her battered life. She hadn’t been back for fifteen years and now she wondered why not.
She had been happy there—but like all young people had felt the need to move on, to see what the big exciting world had to offer her. Well, she had certainly found that out. But why never back to Soalay? She couldn’t visit her parents. Shortly after she had left they had emigrated to New Zealand, to live with her older brother. And somehow there had never seemed to be time to return.
But she was back now. She had been happy here, perhaps she would be happy again. Perhaps the island would calm her, wake her from what had been the living nightmare of the past few weeks. She hoped so.
She felt the rumble and vibration of engines, heard the shouts of men on the quayside, the splash of ropes dropping into the water. The ferry eased away from the quayside, threaded its slow way through the moored fishing boats. They cleared the harbour mouth, she felt the gentle rise and fall of the ship as they headed out to sea.
The excitement of the start of a new journey. She was going home—but only for a year. She knew she could not run from memories for ever.
Just what had she let herself in for?
The journey was over all too quickly. Now the other travellers on the ferry were getting ready to disembark, gathering their shopping bags together, calling for their children. Alice didn’t feel like moving. She had been
calm on the ferry, but now she was wondering what she had done. Was she happy or sad? Was this a courageous career move or was it a mad dash back to a refuge because she hadn’t made a success of life in London? She wasn’t sure. Which seemed to be her constant attitude of mind.
The ferry slowed, cautiously made its way into the tiny harbour. People were waiting on the jetty, ready to meet friends and relations. Alice looked at them carefully, there were one or two that she thought she recognised. A boy who’d been in her year at school. And a girl who had been three or four classes behind Alice, so she was three or four years younger. Now she clutched the hand of a little boy and was pushing a pram. Two children? Well, it was possible.
How many people would remember her?
Then a sudden shock, far greater than she had ever anticipated. There was…there was Ben. Ben Cavendish. Broad and tall and now so close. He saw her just as she saw him—he smiled and waved at her. Ben was the GP she would be working for—no, working with. She was a professional in her own right.
Fifteen years ago they had been teenage sweethearts. In love in that breathless way that only teenagers could experience and sure that their love would last. And they had made plans—which had come to nothing.
How their lives had changed in fifteen years! Alice waved back. But somehow she couldn’t manage a smile.
There was the usual bustle of coming alongside, ropes were thrown, the companionways slid over the side, the little ship was made fast to the jetty. People
moved to get ashore quickly and for a while she lost sight of him in the crowds.
She didn’t want to rush ashore herself. Emotions, feelings she couldn’t identify, suddenly confused her. She hadn’t expected to feel like this. Memories of fifteen years ago suddenly seemed like yesterday, she was hurting now as she had hurt then.
There was the coastguard’s hut they had hidden behind! Exactly the same. For a moment she remembered the heat of his body as he’d held her, remembered the touch of his lips on hers. She was on the very same ferry that had carried her away from him.
Life had been simpler then. She could see it might get difficult now. How would she get on with Ben? She had just seen him smile at her but that didn’t mean that he was really pleased to see her. There could be problems. For a moment she wondered about staying on the ferry, going back to the mainland. Coming here had been a lunatic idea and she ought to change her mind before things got worse. Perhaps she could go and book a ticket at once.
Then she decided that this was just the result of fatigue. The past few days, weeks had been a roller-coaster of problems, the effects were catching up on her. And this was only a new job!
The crowds had lessened now, she turned to pick up her bag. And behind her a voice said, ‘Hi, Alice. I’ll take that.’
She turned, speechless. She knew her mouth had dropped open, she couldn’t close it. Ben! He must have come up a companionway to greet her. Here he was in front of her and fifteen years fell away and she was a
hapless eighteen-year-old girl again, saying goodbye to her boyfriend. She’d loved him so much!
Both were silent a moment, staring at each other. And slowly, silently she slid back into today, into the real world. But she couldn’t help wondering what he had felt. For a moment she had thought she could see in his eyes something of her own feelings. But that had been then and this was now. She looked at him and marvelled at how little he had changed. Had she too changed so little?
His body was heavier, muscle had replaced the slimness of youth. By contrast, his face was thinner. He had lost his adolescent cheeks, he was now a man. There were lines by his eyes and to the side of his mouth, it was the face of a man who had seen something of life. It wasn’t entirely a happy face.
But his eyes were the same and what eyes they were! They changed what had been a normal pleasant face into something memorable. They were large, grey, sometimes they seemed to have a tint of the sea’s green in them. To Alice, it had always been possible to know what he was thinking, just by looking into his eyes. She remembered the saying—the eyes were the windows of the soul. That was so right.