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'Have you thought about letting a few people at work know what's going on?'
Penny closed her eyes at her sister's suggestion and didn't respond. The very last thing Penny wanted was the people at work to know that she was going through IVF.
It was bad enough for the intensely private Penny that her mum and sister knew but, given that Penny was seriously petrified of needles, she'd had no choice but to confide in Jasmine, who would be giving Penny her evening injections soon.
While she couldn't get through it without Jasmine's practical help, there were times when Penny wished that she had never let on that she was trying for a baby.
Yes, her family had been wonderfully supportive but sometimes Penny didn't want to talk about it. She didn't want to hear that they were keeping their fingers crossed for her, didn't always want to give the required permanent updates and, more than anything, she had hated the sympathy when it hadn't worked out the first time. Naturally they had tried to comfort her and understand what they could notthey had both had babies.
The two sisters were walking along the beach close to where they both lived. Penny lived in one of the smart townhouses that had gone up a couple of years ago and took in the glittering bay views. Jasmine lived a little further along the beach with her new husband Jed and her toddler son Simon, who was from Jasmine's first marriage. The newlyweds were busily house hunting and trying to find somewhere suitable between the city, where Jed now worked, and the Peninsula Hospital.
Now, though, the sisters lived close by and, having waved their mother off from Melbourne airport for her long-awaited overseas trip, they walked along the beach with Simon, enjoying the last hour of sunlight.
'It might be a good idea to let a couple of people in on what you're going through,' Jasmine pushed, because she wanted Penny to have the support Jasmine felt that she needed, especially as Penny was going through this all alone.
'Even my own friends don't really understand,' Penny said. 'Coral thinks I'm being selfish, and Bianca, though she says I should go for it if that's what I want..' Her voice trailed off. 'If I can't talk about it with my own friends, what's it going to be like at work?'
'Lisa especially would be really good.'
'Lisa is a nurse unit manager,' Penny broke in. 'I'm not a nurse.'
'She runs the place, though,' Jasmine said. 'She'd be able to look out for you a little bit.'
'I don't need looking out for.'
Jasmine wasn't so sure. She could see that the treatment was taking its toll on her sister, not that Penny would appreciate her observations.
Jasmine wanted so badly to help her sister. They had never really been close but Penny had always looked out for herseveral years older, Penny had shielded her from the worst of their parents' rows and their mother's upset when their father had finally left. It had been the same when their mother had been brought into Emergency Penny had made sure Jasmine hadn't found out about their mother in the same way that she had.
'I know this is all a bit new to you, Jasmine,' Penny said. 'But I've been living with this for years. I've known for ages that I had fertility problems.'
'How long did you and Vince try for?'
Penny heard the tentativeness in Jasmine's question. They were both working on their relationship, but there were still areas between them that were rarely, if ever, discussed.
'Two years,' Penny finally answered.
One year of serious trying and then a year of endless tests and consultations and a relationship that hadn't been able to take the strain. 'We didn't just break up over that, though,' Penny admitted. 'But it certainly didn't help. I can tell you this much.' She gave a tight smile. 'We'd never have survived IVF. It doesn't exactly bring out the best in you.'
'How are you feeling this time?' Jasmine asked.
'Terrible,' Penny admitted. 'I'm getting hot flashes.'
'Are you serious?'
'I'm completely serious. I'd forgotten that partyou know, at the time you think that you will never forget, but you actually do.'
Jasmine opened her mouth to agree with her sister and then closed it again as Penny turned around.
Penny knew that Jasmine had been about to admit to the same thing, but for very different reasonsJasmine's breasts were noticeably larger and she'd had nothing to eat at the airport and had then screwed up her nose when Penny had suggested they get some takeaway for dinner, choosing instead a slow walk on the beach.
Jasmine was pregnant.
Penny just knew.
'I don't need the whole department watching me for signs of a baby bump,' Penny said, though it was the opposite for Penny with her sister. She had been trying so hard to ignore the signs in Jasmine, but more and more it was becoming evident and Penny wished she would just come out and tell her now. 'Or gossiping,' Penny added.
'It wouldn't be like that.'
'Of course it would,' Penny snapped. 'And, of course, they'll all have an opinion on whether I should be doing this, given that I haven't got a partner.' She gave an exasperated sigh. It wasn't a decision she was taking lightly, not in the least. At thirty-four there was no sign of Mr Right on the horizon and with her fertility issues, even if he did come along, it was going to be a struggle to get pregnant.
After many long conversations with the fertility consultant, more and more Penny felt as if time was running out. 'If there's good news at the end of this, I'll tell people, but they don't need to know that I'm trying.'
'But the treatment is so intense. If people only knew '
Penny didn't let her finish. 'You don't walk into the staffroom and tell them that you've come off the pill and had sex with Jed last night.' When Jasmine laughed, Penny carried on. 'No, you feed the sharks when you're good and ready.' Penny paused, waiting for her sister to open up to her, because even if Penny snapped and snarled a bit she wasn't a shark, but Jasmine changed the subject.
'I can't believe that Mum has finally made it to her cruise.' Jasmine smiled. 'Well, she's made it to her flight.'
'And she'll make it to her cruise.' Penny was firm.
'What if something happens while she's stuck in the middle of the ocean?'
'There's a medical team,' Penny said, but of course that didn't reassure her sister. 'Jasmine, are you going to spend the next month worrying about things that might happen and every imagined scenario while Mum is no doubt having the absolute time of her life?'
'I guess,' Jasmine conceded. 'Though I really did think we were going to lose her.'
'We didn't, though,' Penny broke in.
While Louise Masters's heart attack and emergency admission had been a most difficult time, from there good things had sprungan urgent reminder for all concerned that you should live your life to the full.
Which was why their mother would soon be sailing around the Mediterranean, why Jasmine had followed her heart and opened up to Penny's then fellow senior registrar Jed, and why Penny was, at this moment, walking along the beach with a face that was bright red and breaking out into a sweat as she experienced yet another wretched hot flash. Not that Jasmine noticed; her mind had moved on to other things.
'What do you think of Ethan?' Jasmine asked for Penny's thoughts on the new consultant, but Penny didn't answer; instead, she suggested a walk in the shallows, much to little Simon's delight. Both holding his hands, they lifted him up between them, swung him over the water, and finally Penny felt herself calm, the heat fading from her face, her racing heart slowing, and then Jasmine asked her again what she thought of Ethan.
'He thinks that he's God's gift.'
'So do a few other people,' Jasmine pointed out, because since Ethan had arrived, a couple of hearts had already been broken. 'He is funny, though.' Jasmine grinned.
'I don't think he's funny at all,' Penny said, but then again she didn't sit in the little huddles at the nurses' station, neither did she wait for the latest breaking news to be announced in the staffroom. Penny loathed gossip and refused to partake in it, though, given it was Jasmine, there was one thing she did divulge. 'He seems to think that he got the job over me.' Penny gave a little smirk. 'He has no idea that I declined to take it.'
'He doesn't know?'
'God, no!' Penny said. 'I would assume he knows that Jed turned it down to take the position at Melbourne Central, but it would be a bit much for him to know that he was actually the third choice.'
'Wouldn't Mr Dean have told him?'
'Mr Dean wouldn't discuss the other applicants with himyou know what he's like.' Penny rolled her eyes. Mr Dean had put her through the wringer over the yearshe was incredibly chauvinistic and had been reluctant to promote Penny to senior registrar. Penny was quite sure it was because she was a womanshe'd heard Mr Dean comment a few times how you trained women up only for them to get pregnant. Still, Penny had long since proven herself and, though Ethan might think otherwise, the consultant's position had been Penny's. She had chosen not to take it, deciding it would be too much on top of going through IVF, and more and more she was glad she had made that decision.
'Ethan's gorgeous.' Jasmine nudged her. 'He's so sexy.'
'What? Just because I'm married I'm not supposed to notice just how stunning he is?'
Penny conceded with a shrug. Yes, Ethan Lewis was stunning. He had thick silky black hair that seemed always to be just a day away from needing a good cut and had unusual hazel eyes. He was very tall and broad shouldered and so naturally he stood out. He was also a bit chauvinistic, not that the women seemed to mind.
'The trouble with Ethan,' Penny said, 'is that he knows how gorgeous he is and he uses it unwisely. Someone should stamp "not the settling-down type" on his forehead. It might have helped warn the nurse in CCU who keeps coming down to the department to try and speak to him, and also that physiotherapist.'
Penny frowned as she tried to think of the young woman's name, but gave up.
'And that's just two that I've seen and heard about, and given that I'm the last person to know anything, I'm quite sure there must be a few more.'
'Well, at least he doesn't pretend he's interested in anything more serious,' Jasmine said. 'I was talking to him the other day and I apologised for going on too much about Simon and he just laughed and said he enjoyed hearing it, as it's the closest he'll ever get to having one of his own. He's lovely,' Jasmine sighed. 'You should have a fling with him.'
Jasmine would so love to see her very uptight sister unbend just a little. 'She should, shouldn't she, Simon?' Jasmine said as she picked up her little boy, who was finally starting to tire.
'Don't bring Simon into this.' Penny smiled fondly at her nephew. 'And don't you listen to your mother.'
Simon smiled back. He adored his aunt and he held out his hands for Penny to hold him, which she did. 'You're the cause of all this,' Penny teased, because seeing her sister pregnant and later as a mum had stirred already jumbled feelings in Penny and she desperately wanted a baby of her own.
'You tell Aunty Penny that she should listen to me and have some fun before she's ankle deep in nappies and exhausted from lack of sleep.' Jasmine smiled at her son and then turned to her sister. 'Just one last wild fling before you get pregnant!'
'I've never had a wild fling in my life and I'm certainly not about to start now. You've never had IVF, have you?' Penny's voice was wry. 'Believe me, Ethan Lewis and sex and wild flings are the very last thing on my mind right now.' Penny did suddenly laugh, though. 'Could you imagine if I did and then twelve weeks later announced that I'm pregnant?'
'Oh, I would just love to see that.' Jasmine was laughing too at the thought of the confirmed bachelor Ethan Lewis thinking for a moment that he was about to become a father. 'It would kill him!'