Chapter 7

23 December, 1939 Strattondale, Poplar, London

Dorcas was glad to be home. She had loved her first term at Hogwarts, yes. But she'd missed her family and her piano. She sat at the instrument and picked out 'Silent Night' slowly at first, learning the keys. Morty lounged on the sofa, petting Bing, humming along to the tune. Dorcas quickly learned the basic melody on the keys and then started to pick out increasingly more elaborate versions.

Riding back to London on the train, she was surrounded by her friends. Cherry, still pursuing Darren Barton with single-minded determination, sat way too close to him. He had pushed himself against the window as much as he could to allow some distance between him and his captor. But Dorcas thought she could see his prudish resolve slipping a bit.

Anneliese sat across from this display, giggling with Darren's twin sister, Darla.

Beau Haywood and Cal Meadowes sat next to Cherry, heads bent over the Daily Prophet from that morning. It brought more news of the war. The Soviets had invaded Finland. And the Daily Prophet urged Wizarding kind to remain neutral, insisting that terms for peace would be coming soon. It was clear from their tone, Cal and Beau did not agree with this stance.

Dorcas sat beside Anneliese. She buried her nose in a textbook, scratching Bing's ears absently. She was conflicted. She loved the group of friends assembled in this compartment. Each one had been welcoming to her, and had accepted her into the group. She remembered the trepidation she'd felt when she stepped onto the Hogwarts Express just shy of four months ago wondering if she was in the right place; whether she would make friends.

One friend was absent, though, and she felt a stab of conviction. Tom stayed at school during the Christmas holidays because he did not have a home to go to. He had explained that he preferred Hogwarts to the orphanage and stayed there at every opportunity. He confessed that if he would be allowed to, he would have stayed on even during the summer holiday. He said this last part with regret.

The orphanage must be very awful indeed if a solitary existence inside of a castle (even one as wonderful as Hogwarts) won out. She'd remembered the time earlier in the month when he'd told her that he would sneak out and roam all of London rather than stay at the orphanage. Part of her wished she'd stayed behind with him. She felt a stab of disloyalty to him because she was eager to be at home with her mother and her uncle, pulling Christmas crackers and singing carols.

She'd ventured into the halls on the night before the end of term, cradling a present that she'd made for Tom. If she could not stay to celebrate the holiday with her friend, she could at least give him a token of her affection.

She found him on the steps of the spiral staircase leading up to the fourth floor corridor.

"Happy Christmas," Dorcas said, pulling a small glass vial from behind her back. It was corked and sealed with wax. The liquid inside was a transparent periwinkle color. "It's an Invisibility Draught," she explained. "So you can go somewhere new. Anywhere that you couldn't go before. Because now you'll be invisible." She bounced on the balls of her feet as she said this. "I had to steal some of the ingredients from Professor Slughorn's stores." She hoped he would be impressed by her daring.

He stared at her in surprise.

"I've never received a gift before."

Dorcas took one of his hands and pressed the bottle into it. "Oh. Well, it's not much. But I thought you would like it."

"I do," Tom said quickly, looking at the gift, stunned.

Dorcas watched Tom inspect the small potion bottle a little longer, trying to think of something to say that would break the silence.

After a moment, Tom placed the bottle in his pocket and grabbed Dorcas's hand. "I've got something to show you. It's a gift of sorts as well."

He raced up the stairs with Dorcas in tow. Two more flights of stairs and a secret passageway later and Tom and Dorcas were face to face with the bizarre tapestry of the wizard and the trolls learning ballet.

Dorcas was about to remind Tom that they'd been here a few weeks ago when he cut her off.

"Wait here."

She watched him pace the corridor three times and, to her amazement a large wooden door appeared.

"Wow!" Dorcas was completely enchanted by the magical door; so much so that she forgot to be curious about what was behind it.

She was about to ask Tom how he'd managed to find this most spectacular Hogwarts secret. She was stopped short by Tom tugging on her hand again, pulling her inside.

The sight of the cavernous room, massive piers supporting a rib-vaulted space reminded her of a cathedral. But she'd never been inside a cathedral like this. There were heaps and piles of discarded things; narrow passageways between the hoarded items.

The sight of the space and its multitude treasures took Dorcas's breath away.

"Do you like it?" Tom asked eagerly at her side.

Dorcas nodded slowly, unable to find words to answer him.

She let go of Tom's hand and wandered through the stacks. A thought occurred to her and she turned to ask Tom. He'd vanished.

She turned back to the wonderful things piled high. There were books stacked in columns from the floor to well above her head. She saw a dressmaker's dummy with a target painted on its front, knives sunk into its midsection. One of the knives marked a bullseye. There was an old violin propped next to a cupboard. Dorcas picked it up and plucked the strings, very out of tune. She tried the cupboard doors. Locked.

Venturing further into the space, Dorcas stepped over a toppled statue, and turned toward a shelf with various dried herbs and dead specimens floating in green and orange liquid.

"Come find me," Dorcas heard Tom whisper and whipped around. His voice had sounded so close that she had the impression that he was just inches from her. The path that she had traversed was empty of anyone living. The statue still lay across it, like a bridge between the junk heaps.

Dorcas stopped to listen. She strained for any sound that could tell her which direction Tom went. She turned right.

Something flitted past her, so close that it stirred her hair as it passed. She inhaled sharply, looking for the source of the movement.

A noise like a stack of books falling sounded in the distance, she smirked and ran off after the noise.

At a large birdcage, complete with dead canaries in the bottom, Dorcas made a left. She thought she heard footsteps. She quickened her pace. It was a maze of cast-off and long-forgotten possessions. As she went deeper and deeper in search of her friend, she tried to stifle the terrible feeling that she could get lost in here. That she could become one of the cast-off, long-forgotten things, like the dead canaries.

From a long distance back the way she had come she heard faint whistling.

At the hint that her friend had not abandoned her, worry evaporated and she turned and chased the sound. Stopping briefly at a suit of armor, checking to see that no one was behind it, she ran on.

The whistling was getting louder.

Dorcas slowed so that her footfalls would not be heard. The song was coming from behind a tall cabinet to her left. Billie Holiday's 'I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm' was the tune.

She crept around the cabinet. Tom was stretched out on some blankets and cushions, flipping through a book. It looked to be a very old and dusty memoir.

"Found you," Dorcas proclaimed, collapsing onto the cushions beside Tom.

Tom glanced up from the book and fixed her with a smile. "Do you like it?"

Dorcas grinned widely and stared at an orrery suspended above them. "I do! Thanks for showing me, Tom."

Tom inched closer to her and laid back, his head resting on the same pillow as hers. He closed the book and rested it on his chest. Raising his wand, Tom whispered, "Lumos Dispellum". Light left the tip of his wand and settled into the brass sun in the center of the orrery. "Locomotor" and it began to rotate gently. It cast a beautiful dancing glow above them.

"Happy Christmas, Birdie."

Dorcas remembered the night in the room with all of the hidden treasures and it made her smile. She picked out the tune that Tom had whistled on the piano's keys.

"Go back to 'Deck the Halls'," Morty interrupted her thoughts. "I liked that one better."

Dorcas shook her head clear of the recent memory and obliged.

Looking at the carriage clock on the mantle, she checked the time. Her mother would not be home from the hospital for at least three more hours. She wished the time would move faster. She had not seen her mother since she'd left for school. Dorcas had seen herself off of the train this afternoon and taken a cab home. Morty's caretaker, Mrs. Spratt had served as welcoming party, Morty being asleep when she arrived. Even though she did not get the warm Christmas greeting she'd expected, she was not deterred. She bustled around, making a festive paper chain to string on the mantle, baked a batch of cinnamon biscuits, and set a pot of mulled wine to simmer.

The Christmas spirit, at last filled the little space.

She and Morty had whiled away the hours before Dorcas' mother would return with playing Christmas tunes.

Mary-Ellen often worked late shifts nursing at the hospital. Dorcas was used to this. She wanted to stay up to greet her mother, but wondered if she would be able to. For a moment she regretted the indulgence of sneaking out of bed to meet Tom the night before.

"Better go and brush your teeth, Morty. It's almost bedtime." Dorcas turned to her uncle who yawned. Dorcas couldn't help but answer this with a yawn of her own.

Morty set Bing on the couch next to him and disappeared into his bedroom. Emerging moments later in plaid pajamas, Dorcas's uncle crossed the sitting room to the piano and gave Dorcas a hug.

"I've missed you, D."

Dorcas smiled. "I've missed you too, Morty." He was often sidetracked. She gently nudged him toward the washroom. "Brush your teeth. Then bedtime."

The washroom door closed.

Dorcas crossed to the kitchen and cleared away the dinner dishes from the table. Drying off and putting the last plate in the cupboard, Dorcas was startled by a loud thud.

Morty.

Dorcas dropped the dish towel that she was holding and raced to the hall. She pushed the door, but it wouldn't budge. Thinking that it might have been locked, she took her wand from her pocket and aimed it at the doorknob. "Alohomora".

The door did not budge. Dorcas put her weight against it and pushed as hard as she could. There was something blocking it.

She managed to push the door open a crack and saw her uncle lying on the floor. His prone form was the impediment. Dorcas could see a lot of blood.

She finally managed to push hard enough to get into the small space. Crouching beside Morty, she lifted his head slightly, to keep him from banging it on the ground as his body shook with seizures. But this was futile. He had a large gash across the back of his head. He must have hit the bathtub on his way down. The convulsions subsided and his movements slowed. He didn't open his eyes.

Dorcas tried to remember a spell to stop the bleeding. Her mind was blank. Of all of the books she'd spent months pouring over in the library, nothing about healing wounds came to her.

"Morty?" Dorcas shook her uncle gently.

Her wand lay on the floor next to her, completely useless.

Dorcas couldn't tell if he was breathing. He wouldn't respond to her.

She placed her uncle's head gently to the ground and sprang to her feet. Get help, she thought. But she was frozen in panic. She didn't know what to do. Where could she go to find assistance?

She had neighbors. She clung to this thought. She could ask someone to call for the ambulance service. She raced across the sitting room and flung open the door to the hallway.

Her upstairs neighbor was walking slowly down the stairs. Betty Balfour was dressed in a red sequined evening dress with a black overcoat. Dorcas knew that she worked at a club a few blocks from here. She played the piano and sang. She must have been on her way to work.

"Miss Balfour," Dorcas called, her voice strained with worry. "Please call for an ambulance. The phone booth on the corner."

It took a moment for the request to register with Betty.

"Dorcas, is everything alright?"

"No," Dorcas said, tears filling her eyes. "Please hurry."

:::

Two men wheeled her uncle through the double doors and into the hospital. He lay unmoving on the gurney, though his head was bandaged, blood was still pooling beneath him.

Dorcas hopped out of the ambulance a moment later, but had not seen where her uncle and the two men had gone. She clutched her cardigan with bloodstained hands, dazed. She faintly registered the flakes of snow settling in her eyelashes. Looking side to side, she wondered where to go or who to talk to.

The ambulance drove off.

She shuffled up onto the sidewalk and stood looking at the busy street. How could she contact her mum and let her know what had happened? She would come home to empty rooms and blood all over the floor.

Dorcas started to shake. She wrapped her arms around her.

How could she have let it happen? She hadn't seen the warning signs that signaled one of his episodes. Or had they been present, and she just hadn't noticed them? She was selfishly thinking about school and her new friends. She hadn't paid the smallest bit of attention to her own family, right in front of her.

And there was so much blood. What if-

"Jesus! Clerey, is that you?" A shocked but familiar voice stopped Dorcas from thinking the worst.

Dorcas spun around to face the speaker.

Cal Meadowes was on the steps of the hospital, flipping up the collar of his overcoat against the cold and the snow.

His eyes were wide with panic. Rushing over to where she stood, he took his coat off immediately and wrapped her up in it.

"Are you okay? Where are you hurt?" His eyes surveyed the front of her.

She supposed she did look pretty frightening. She had blood down the front of her dress and the knees of her socks were also drenched.

She shook her head, trying to explain the state of her appearance, but the words wouldn't come.

"My uncle," she finally managed.

Cal cast about for a memory of a conversation. "Morty?"

Dorcas nodded. "He fell," was all she managed.

Cal tucked her under one arm and turned her in the direction of the steps that he'd just descended.

"Let's go see where they've taken him." His voice began to calm. "Are you sure you're not hurt?"

Dorcas blinked the snow from her lashes and nodded.

"Caleb?" A woman's voice made Dorcas look up. "Is everything alright?"

"It's my friend from school. Her uncle's just been brought in."

"Oh, dear. How awful," the woman said, taking in Dorcas's bloody appearance. She turned and opened the door that she'd just exited with a camel colored gloved hand, sabel coat swinging in her wake.

The woman held the door open for Dorcas and Cal and motioned toward a couple of benches against the wall.

"What is your uncle's name, dearest?" the woman asked her as she settled next to Cal on a bench.

She hadn't noticed how cold it was outside until she'd come into the warm waiting room. Now her hands had that stinging feeling you get when you make snowballs without any gloves on. She flexed her fingers and focused on her burning fingertips.

"Mortimer Rackharrow," she said automatically. The woman nodded and walked purposefully to the waiting room attendant behind a booth.

Cal took her hands in both of his. They were blessedly warm.

Dorcas looked around the room. There was a small, elderly woman flipping through a magazine. Other than her, the waiting room was empty.

"Mother will find out where your uncle has been taken. She knows the hospital very well," Cal reassured her.

Dorcas looked at the woman, fur coat, fashionable hat and shoes, like a mannequin that just walked right out of a department store display window. She turned away from the nurse that she'd been speaking to and came to stand in front of the pair.

"Your uncle will be going into surgery shortly, my dear," Cal's mother said, not unsympathetically. "It sounds serious, but I was told his injuries are not life threatening."

Dorcas's shoulders deflated slightly in relief.

"That's good to hear," Cal said, speaking what Dorcas felt.

"I'm afraid it will be some time before anyone will be allowed to see him," she continued. "Caleb and I were just leaving. We can take you home, if you like."

Dorcas shook her head. She did not know how long it would take her mother to find out where she and Morty had gone. She wanted to make sure someone was here in case something happened. In case, things turned out to be more serious.

"No thank you, ma'am," Dorcas said faintly. "I'll wait here."

"I will wait with Dorcas, mother," Cal said, squeezing her hands reassuringly in his own.

His mother took note of the gesture and the corners of her mouth turned up slightly.

"Your brother will be released tomorrow morning. I must get a room arranged for him," She said to Cal, standing and adjusting her handbag. "I will send Parker back for you in two hours."

Cal nodded.

"Dorcas, sweetheart," Cal's mother said, turning to her. "Your uncle is in my prayers. I hope he is well and home again very soon."

"Thank you," Dorcas said, tears in her eyes.

Cal placed an arm around her shoulders and pulled his coat around her so that she was all tucked inside.

Cal's mother said something to the nurse at the booth again before she left.

"Your brother is here?" Dorcas asked.

"Yes," Cal said. "He was injured in a training exercise in Dover. Broken arm and a head injury. He should be recovering in an army hospital near his base. But father pulled some strings." He laughed to himself. "What's the point of being on the board of a hospital and a peer of the realm if you can't get your way with these things?"

Dorcas felt him shrug. "But mother is glad she will have him home for Christmas at any rate."

Dorcas settled into the warm coat and the arm around her.

"What happened to your uncle?"

She could feel him looking at her.

"He was in the washroom. He fell and hit his head, I think on the bathtub. There was a lot of blood." Her voice hitched.

Cal's arm tightened around her. "You heard mother, they told her that he will be okay."

Dorcas nodded, comforted somewhat.

"He falls a lot. He has seizures. He's always been that way," she explained.

Cal was silent, giving her the space to think or to talk.

"I should have been paying attention," she said, a small sob in her voice. "I usually can tell when they're coming on. He gets really tired and his speech slurs."

"Hey," Cal said, rubbing her arm. "Come on, you couldn't have known. It's not your fault."

Wiping tears from her eyes, she nodded. She knew he was right, but she was still angry with herself.

They sat in silence for a long time. Dorcas sat up a little straighter when a nurse came into the room. But every time this happened, it was only to check a list with the waiting room attendant.

Dorcas had begun to doze on Cal's shoulder when her mother rushed into the waiting room and spoke to the same nurse that Cal's mum had talked to.

The sound of her mother's voice startled her awake.

"Mum," Dorcas called, standing. Cal's coat slipped from her shoulders as she stood.

Mary-Ellen, still clad in her garish lime green St. Mungo's robes turned at the sound of her daughter's voice.

"Dorcas," she said, crossing the space in a few strides. She wrapped Dorcas in a tight embrace and then held her at arms length to survey her. "Are you hurt?"

Dorcas shook her head, looking at her hands and her dress, trying to wipe the blood from both. "It's Morty's."

"What happened?"

Mary-Ellen sat on the other side of her daughter and held her hand.

"I asked Morty to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. He was in the washroom when he fell and hit his head." Dorcas tried to be stoic in her explanation, but began to cry again. "I'm sorry, mum."

Mary-Ellen shook off the apology and hugged Dorcas to her. "Nothing to be sorry for. I was worried this would happen. Where was Mrs. Spratt?"

Dorcas looked down at her hands. "I let her leave around eight. I thought he would be safe with just me."

Her mother stroked her hair. "He is safe with you. He falls. It happens all the time. You did the right thing by getting him to the hospital. I couldn't have done any better."

"You would have done magic. I couldn't remember how to do anything."

"Yes, but I'm trained in magical healing. That's taken me years." Mary-Ellen seemed to notice Cal sitting quietly next to them at just that moment.

"Who is this?" Mary-Ellen smiled politely at Cal.

Dorcas had forgotten him. "Oh, this is my friend Cal." Dorcas seemed to have also forgotten manners. "Caleb Meadowes, a friend from school."

Dorcas turned to Cal. "My mother, Mary-Ellen Clerey."

Cal reached across Dorcas. "Healer Clerey," he said offering his hand.

Mary-Ellen shook hands and corrected, "Matron Clerey, please. I'm a nurse."

Mary-Ellen remembered at that moment that she was still wearing her odd Wizarding hospital uniform and took it off quickly. Underneath the lime green robes, she had on a gray wool skirt and jumper.

"Ms. Clerey," a nurse called from behind the waiting room booth.

"Excuse me," Mary-Ellen said and handed Dorcas her balled up robe. She stood and sprinted to the booth and had a brief but hushed conversation with the nurse.

Returning a moment later, Mary-Ellen sat down again. "Your uncle is out of surgery. He's in a recovery ward. No one will be allowed to see him," she continued, heading off the question that Dorcas was about to ask. "She'll have an update for me in an hour."

Mary-Ellen sat back and rubbed her eyes.

"You should go home, Dorcas. There's nothing you can do for your uncle."

Dorcas opened her mouth to protest.

Her mother looked at her with a direct stare that brooked no argument. "You've had a long journey and a trying evening. Go home. I will send word if he wakes up."

"I'll take you home, Clerey," Cal said, standing. He held a hand out for her.

Dorcas reluctantly took it.

"Thank you, Caleb." Mary-Ellen was exhausted-looking. "Dorcas was lucky to have had a friend with her tonight. I'm grateful."

Dorcas tried to think of an argument that would convince her mother to go home in her place. But she knew it would never work.

"I am happy to be of service," Cal said amiably.

He wrapped Dorcas back up in his coat and turned her toward the glass doors, frosted with a layer of snow.

Dorcas spared a final glance back at her mother, whose head was resting against the wall. Her mouth seemed to be moving in a silent prayer.

The cold was bracing. Cal, with an arm around her shoulders, guided Dorcas to a waiting car. It was dark and shiny. He opened the door for Dorcas and she ducked inside.

She hadn't ridden in many cars, but could immediately tell that this one was very expensive.

Cal slipped into the back seat beside Dorcas and placed an arm around her shoulders again. She had become accustomed to this gesture quickly, she'd noted with curiosity.

"Parker," Cal said, addressing the driver. The driver looked into the rearview mirror.

"Where do you live?" Cal asked Dorcas.

"Number 19 Strattondale," Dorcas replied.

Parker nodded. "Very good, Miss."

The car pulled onto the street. Cal and Dorcas sat in silence for a moment.

"Clerey," Cal said, squeezing her shoulders. "What you said back there to your mum, about not being able to think of a spell that would help your uncle."

"Yeah?"

"She's right, you know. We're new to magic. We can't perform complicated healing spells. Don't beat yourself up about that."

Dorcas nodded and considered this. Cal had meant to comfort her. She knew that he and her mother were right, of course. She could have done more harm to her uncle than good by using magic. She knew that she'd probably done the best thing, taking him to a Muggle hospital. But she was frustrated. She wanted to be better at helping, at healing. She was frustrated by how much she still didn't know.

They settled into a comfortable silence.

The car pulled up in front of her building shortly after this. Cal opened the door and Dorcas followed him out of the car.

"Thank you, Parker," Dorcas turned and said to the driver.

"My pleasure, Miss," Parker said, turning and smiling at her.

Dorcas led the way to her family's second floor rooms. There was a note on the door.

Mary-Ellen,

Your brother took a fall and he and Dorcas went to Saint Josephs.

I hope all will be well soon!

Betty

So that is how her mother knew where she was. She would have to remember to thank her neighbor for all of her help.

Tomorrow.

Dorcas felt very tired.

Cal opened the door for her.

Dorcas hung up her mother's robe that she was still clutching on the coat rack by the door. She Slipped off Cal's coat and folded it. Handing it to him she whispered, "Thank you."

He smiled at her in reply and closed the door behind them. He found the light switch and illuminated the sitting room and kitchen.

Dorcas looked down at her stained dress and socks.

"Here," Cal said, dropping his coat over a chair. He went to the sink and took the dish towel Dorcas had discarded hours ago and ran it under the faucet.

Pulling a chair out for her he said, "Sit."

Dorcas complied. Taking her hands, Cal wiped the dried and cracked blood off of them. The warm towel felt soothing. Dorcas closed her eyes.

"You must be very tired," Cal observed, rinsing the towel in the sink.

Dorcas nodded and stood. Going to her bedroom, she closed the door and slipped out of her shoes, bloody knee socks, cardigan, and dress. She slipped a flannel nightgown over her head and opened the door. She walked to the washroom to wash her face and brush her teeth.

She startled. Cal was on his hands and knees with a towel, mopping up the blood that had pooled on the floor where her uncle had fallen. He was just finishing the job and stood to face her.

Brushing hair off of his forehead, he said, "That ought to do it." He smiled at her sympathetically.

She didn't know why this small act touched her so acutely, or why his smile made her tear up again. She was just so grateful to him for the unflinching support he'd given her.

Dorcas flung herself into his arms, crying and said, "Thank you for being there to help me." She felt stupid being so emotional.

He hugged her back, and rested his cheek on the top of her head. "I always will, Clerey."

The statement was so simple and so earnest. But she could feel in his voice and in the arms that he'd wrapped around her how much he meant it.

She pulled away from him self-consciously a moment later, blushing and wiping away tears.

Cal seemed to have become embarrassed as well. They couldn't meet the other's eyes.

"I'll let you wash up," Cal said, laying the towel over the bathtub and exiting the washroom.

Dorcas brushed her teeth and washed her face. She unbraided her hair and ran a comb through the tangles.

Wondering if Cal had left, or if she should see him out, she went into the sitting room. He was sitting on the sofa asleep with his chin resting on his chest. Dorcas padded softly in bare feet to the sofa and pulled a blanket off of the arm. She placed it over Cal.

Suddenly, Dorcas remembered Parker in the car downstairs. She wondered if she should say something to him. Tell him to come back for Cal in the morning. The car wasn't there.

She quietly crossed the sitting room and turned out the lights. She was bone weary. She closed the door to her bedroom and collapsed against her pillow.

:::

Dorcas expected to wake up to an empty flat. Instead she woke to the smell of bacon. Her stomach rumbled.

She wondered for a moment if her mother had returned home in the night and was now making breakfast.

Dorcas threw back the covers, getting up quickly. She would insist on making breakfast so that her mother could have a lie down.

But when Dorcas entered the kitchen, it was Cal making breakfast. He had her mother's apron tied around his waist. The scene was extremely domesticated. Dorcas was impressed.

"Good morning," Dorcas said, announcing her presence. She tucked her hair behind her ears, trying to run her fingers through it. Suddenly, she was self-conscious of her appearance, which she imagined was pretty awful.

"Happy Christmas Eve," Cal said. He glanced at her and then returned to the bacon crisping in the pan. Then his eyes darted furtively back toward her.

She noticed the double-take and became more aware of her potentially frightening state.

Dorcas sat at the table, looking at the spread. Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast. She reached for a glass of orange juice sitting beside her plate.

"Thank you for staying last night. You didn't have to," Dorcas said to Cal's back. "I'm used to being on my own."

Cal shrugged and placed the last few strips of bacon on a plate in the middle of the table. He flicked the burner off on the stove and set the pan in the sink.

"I wanted to." Cal sat across from her. "I didn't like the thought of you being alone after everything."

Dorcas took some toast and eggs, reaching her plate out so that Cal could add bacon to it.

They tucked in. Cal was probably as hungry as she felt.

"Did your driver go home without you last night?" Dorcas asked after swallowing a bite of eggs.

"I asked him to."

Dorcas nodded and continued to eat. Then she realized something.

"Cal, your mother said that your brother was being released this morning," she said, nearly spilling juice down her front. "You're going to miss his homecoming on account of me."

"No," Cal said, buttering toast. "You and I can head back to the hospital when you're ready. I won't miss anything."

Dorcas nodded. She wasn't convinced. It was the kind of selfless thing Cal would do, looking after her when his own family needed him. But, she was anxious to get back to the hospital to check on Morty and her mother. She ate faster.

When she was finished, Dorcas jumped up to clear the plates. Cal seemed to be taking his time.

"I'll clear up," he said, taking a sip of juice. "You go and get dressed."

She nodded and disappeared into her bedroom.

She selected a brown plaid wool skirt and a burgundy blouse. Throwing a warm cardigan over the outfit, slipping on socks and shoes, she rushed to the washroom to detangle her hair and plait it into braids. She brushed her teeth and flew back out into the kitchen.

"I'm ready," Dorcas said, rushing to the coat rack for her heavy coat. She grabbed her mother's as well, noticing that she didn't have one with her last night.

Cal was drying the last of the dishes. He placed them in the cabinet and grabbed his coat from the back of the chair.

"Let's go," he said.

He held the door for her and followed her down the stairs and out into a snow covered street.

Parker was waiting faithfully with the car again.

Cal and Dorcas sat in companionable silence again. Dorcas noticed that the silence was not awkward. Had they grown comfortable in one another's company so fast?

When they arrived at the hospital entrance, Dorcas noticed her mother and Cal's mother in conversation with one another, standing close to the nurses' station.

"Mum," Dorcas crossed the lobby and hugged her mother. "How's uncle Morty?"

Mary-Ellen kissed her daughter's forehead. "He's awake, talking. Would you like to go and see him?"

Dorcas nodded eagerly.

"It was nice to meet you, Elaine," Mary-Ellen said, taking Dorcas's hand. "And you, Caleb. You have been so nice to Dorcas."

Elaine and Cal both smiled at Mary-Ellen. "Lovely to meet you," Elaine said.

"Happy Christmas," Dorcas replied and, turning, followed her mother through a pair of glass doors and onto the ward.