Jo had been home for less than a week when her mother received the telephone call she'd been waiting for.
"A donor heart has been found for you," she told her youngest daughter excitedly. "We must leave for the hospital right away."
For the first time since Jo's return, Beth's eyes lit up. "Oh, Jo, I'm to have a new heart!"
"I'm so glad!" Jo helped her weak sister out of bed. She helped her get dressed and brushed her long, golden brown hair for her.
Mrs. March was in overdrive, scurrying around to make sure everything was packed and ready and nothing would be left behind. Just before leaving the house, she called her husband.
"Your father will meet us at the hospital as soon as he can get away," she told her daughters. She and Jo helped Beth to the car.
When they pulled into the hospital parking lot, a couple of transport orderlies met them with a gurney. Jo and her mother helped Beth onto it, and Jo held her sister's hand as she was trundled into the hospital.
Jo could see the fear in her Beth's big blue eyes.
"You're gonna be fine," she said, swallowing the lump in her throat. "In just a few hours, you'll have your new heart, and when you wake up, you'll be as good as new!"
She knew Beth's recovery would be long and arduous, but she wanted to sound as encouraging as possible.
Once inside the building, Jo and her mother watched as Beth was wheeled through the big double doors leading to the surgical center. The surgeon, Dr. Grimmer, came to talk with them several minutes later.
"First I'll give her a quick examination, just to make sure she's healthy enough to endure the procedure," he explained. "The surgery itself will take about four hours. She'll have to stay in the ICU for several days afterwards, and if all goes well, she'll then be moved to a regular hospital room, where she'll stay for a couple of weeks before being released to go home. Do you have any questions for me?"
"Where's her new heart right now?" asked Jo.
"It was brought into the operating room just a few minutes ago," Dr. Grimmer told her. "It's being kept oxygenated and nourished by tubes of circulating blood."
"It's amazing that they can do that!" said Mrs. March.
Dr. Grimmer smiled. "Yes, it is."
Jo and their mother settled in for their long wait. Mrs. March called Meg and told her what was going on. Jo sat staring at her phone, wondering whether or not she should call Fritz. She didn't want to disturb him if he was busy, but she longed to hear his voice.
As the wait dragged on, she found herself imagining worst case scenarios. What if the new heart wouldn't start beating once it was in her sister's chest? What if the operation was initially a success but Beth's body rejected the heart?
Jo had never been so glad to see her father when he finally arrived.
"How is she?" he asked his wife.
"We haven't heard anything yet," Mrs. March replied. "She was in good spirits when we got here."
Mr. March nodded. "She's a brave girl." He looked at his middle daughter. "And how have you been, Jo?"
"Aside from worrying about Beth, I've been all right."
He smiled. "And what of the young man you met in New York?"
He's not that young, thought Jo. "Fritz? We keep in touch."
"And what about Teddy? Has he been by?"
Jo stared at the floor.
"He's been by several times, but Jo refuses to see him," said Mrs. March.
"I have nothing more to say to him," said Jo. "I've already said it all."
Mr. March nodded. Jo hoped he wasn't disappointed in her. She knew he thought Teddy was a good catch - wealthy, charming, and handsome. Her father probably didn't understand why Jo didn't jump at the chance of a future with him.
Jo looked at her mother, knowing that she, at least, understood.
She'd never shared her experience living as Magda Weber in Nazi-era Germany with either of her parents. The experience had been so bizarre she simply hadn't known how to put it into words, and as time passed, she'd began to wonder if she'd actually dreamed the whole thing.
Jo's heart quickened when, what seemed like many hours later, Dr. Grimmer re-appeared, looking exhausted and a bit disheveled.
"Everything went as expected," he told Jo and her parents. "She's resting in recovery. She'll be taken back to ICU in a little while. You can go back and see her then, two at a time."
Jo breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't think she'd realized how scared she'd been Beth might die in surgery, and now that the worst was over, she knew she couldn't imagine life without her beloved sister.
Of course she agreed to her parents going back to see Beth first, and while waiting for her turn, she sent a text message to Fritz.
"Surgery over. Beth survived."
When she was finally able to see Beth, she was shocked and dismayed at her sister's appearance. She was connected to a ventilator, and tubes were in her chest. An IV was in her arm.
Beth's eyes were open, ever so slightly. Jo squeezed her cold hand.
"Bethy? It's me, Jo. I'm here now."
The eyes opened wider and focused on Jo's face.
"You're gonna be just fine, Beth. Soon you'll be able to come home, and it'll be just like old times again, before you got sick. You'll see!"
Jo couldn't be sure, but she thought she saw a smile in Beth's eyes.
Later, at home, she checked her phone and found a text message from Fritz.
"I pray God's hand over her for complete healing."
Only Fritz would send a text like that, Jo though with a smirk, but at the same time, she found it endearing.