“Hurry up, Melinda!” Andi called through her sister’s bedroom door. “We’re going to be late to pick up Justin at the train station.”
“I’ll be right out,” came the annoyed reply. Andi groaned and headed outside to see if she could help Mitch get the surrey ready. Justin had been gone to San Francisco for four weeks. That was the longest he had ever been away and Andi missed him terribly.
But now he was on the twelve o’clock train to Fresno, and he would take up for her when Chad found out she hadn’t finished her chores and Andi’s world would be a happier one again. Or so she thought. Little did she know the trials that lay ahead.
Andi and her family were gathered on the station platform when Justin’s train pulled in. There were lots of hugs and handshakes when Justin joined them. He pointed out which bags were his, Chad and Mitch loaded them, and they were soon on their way.
“You don’t look well, Justin,” Mother said on the ride home, placing the back of her hand against his forehead.
“I’m just tired,” Justin yawned. “I think that was the longest month of my life.”
The next morning when Andi went into the dining room for breakfast she was surprised to find only Melinda was there.
“I know I’m not early. Where is everyone?” Andi smiled, but her expression quickly changed when she saw the upset look on her sister’s face. “Melinda, what’s wrong?”
“I guess you’ll have to know sometime,” she sighed. “Justin’s sick. He woke up with a high fever this morning, and Mother sent him back to bed. Mitch just left to get the doctor, and Chad already ate and went outside.”
“Doctor? That sounds serious.”
Melinda nodded, “You better eat and get to your chores. No school for you today. What Justin has could be catchy.”
Andi sat down at the table to do as her sister said, although she wasn’t hungry. “Aren’t you going to join me?” She asked when she saw that Melinda hadn’t ate a bite.
“I’m not hungry anymore.”
Just then there was the sound of horse hooves outside. Andi and Melinda went out onto the porch and found Mitch and Dr. Weaver at the hitching post. Melinda showed the doctor upstairs. Andi and Mitch followed and waited outside of Justin’s door. Chad joined them soon. After what seemed like an eternity to Andi, Mother and Melinda came out.
“Mother?” Andi said as she stepped over and slipped her arm around her mother’s waist.
Mother gave her a weak smile, “It’s all right, Andrea.” She paused and looked around at the rest of her children. “Dr. Weaver says Justin has influenza.” They all gasped and waited for her to continue. “He also says anyone who had any contact with Justin could catch the illness. We may end up with an epidemic on our hands.”
“Mother, will Justin be alright?” Andi asked.
“Andrea, you’re thirteen years old now, old enough to be told the truth. Influenza is a serious illness. But God will see us through this. It will be alright.” Elizabeth hugged her daughter tighter.
Andi swallowed hard to hold back the tears that threatened to flow down her face. “I’m going to the barn,” she whispered before hurrying down the stairs.
Over an hour later Andi had done all her chores and was finishing grooming Taffy when she heard Mitch call for her. “Andi! Come quick! I need you!” She rushed out of the barn and soon found Mitch dragging Chad around the corral.
“Mitch! What happened?”
“We had just saddled up to ride out to the west pasture and check on the herd when he said he had a headache. I had no sooner turned around and he hit the ground,” Mitch managed between breaths. “Go get Diego to help me carry him to the house.”
Andi nodded and turned to go, then she paused and turned back to Mitch, “You think he has it too?”
“I may be wrong, but that would be my guess,” Mitch grimaced.
Andi nodded and ran off to find Diego.
Andi held the door open as Mitch and Diego carried Chad in. As they started up the stairs, Elizabeth came down. Tears welled in her eyes when she saw them, “Put him in Justin’s room. There’s a bed ready for him, by Dr. Weaver’s suggestion.” Mitch nodded and they headed on up the stairs.
“One other thing, Mitch,” Elizabeth put her arm around Andi’s shoulders before continuing. “The doctor is with Melinda. She has it, too.”
Mitch groaned and then kept going upstairs.
Andi gasped and returned her mother’s embrace, praying. Lord, please take care of my family, and give me strength for the days ahead.
Elizabeth pulled back from her youngest daughter, and wiped the tears from both their faces. “Andrea, I want you to move some of your things to the downstairs bedroom. And I want you to stay there or outdoors, so that you’re away from most of sickness but not spreading it anywhere else. Do you understand?”
“But Mother, I want to help! I can help care for Justin, Chad, and Melinda. Please?”
“I know you want to help, dear. But I would rather you stay away as much as you can. That way there is less possibility of you catching-”
“Elizabeth?” Andi and Elizabeth both turned and found the Dr. Weaver standing at the top of the stairs. “I don’t mean to nose into your business. But I couldn’t help overhearing. Since Andi has already been around Justin and the others, keeping her away now wouldn’t change things. She has already been exposed.”
Elizabeth nodded, “I see. Alright then. Andrea, you may help take care of your brothers and sister on one condition. If you began to feel ill, you tell me immediately and get plenty of rest. Agreed?”
“Yes Mother. Thank you!” Andi grabbed her mother in a tight hug. “And thank you doctor!”
Elizabeth returned the hug. Dr. Weaver simply nodded and went back down the hall.
Andi and her mother were back and forth all day between Justin’s room, where he and Chad were, and Melinda’s room. Placing cool, damp cloths on their foreheads and gave them medicine and sips of water when they were awake.
Long after supper time Elizabeth sent Andi downstairs to eat. Although Elizabeth had told Nila and Luisa to stay in their cabins away from the sickness, they still brought some food to the kitchen, insisting Andi, Elizabeth, Mitch, and Dr. Weaver needed to eat. Andi went downstairs and finding the four plates of food the housekeepers had left, took one of them and a glass of milk and sat at the table. Mitch soon joined her.
Andi didn’t have much appetite but told herself she needed to eat. Glancing across the table she saw Mitch picking at his food. He seemed to be deep in thought.
“Mitch?” Andi said.
He looked up from his plate. “Yeah?”
“Are you as worried as I am?”
“That depends in how worried you are.” Her grinned but not for long. “I’m plenty worried, that’s for sure. I think I’m as worried about Mother as I am about everyone else.”
“Mother? But she isn’t sick.”
“Exactly. She’s trying to care for Justin, Chad, and Melinda and worry about whether me and you will take sick.”
Andi hadn’t thought of that. “Mitch? Do you think---” Andi’s voice quivered. Her vision blurred with unshed tears.
“What is it, sis?” Mitch asked with concern.
She looked up at her brother. “Do you think everyone will.....will make it?”
“You shouldn’t think about things like that.” Mitch said softly.
“I can’t help it. Mother says it’s serious.” Her voice broke and the tears came. Without giving it a second thought Andi ran around the end of the table and threw her arms around Mitch’s neck.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Mitch comforted her. He pulled her onto his lap and holding her tight let her cry. They were still sitting there when Elizabeth came in. Mitch tenderly kissed the top of Andi’s head.
Elizabeth put an arm around Andi. “Come on, dear. You need to get some rest.” Andi was too exhausted to argue. She called good night to Mitch and allowed her mother to guide her upstairs to her room and some much needed rest.
Around noon two days later, Andi was seated at Chad’s bedside washing sweat from his forehead. Chad, along with Justin and Melinda were still burning up with fever. Two of the hands had come down sick and were now occupying Chad’s room, so the doctor didn’t have to go out to the bunkhouse to keep check on them.
Her mother stepped up behind her. “I know you want to help care for your siblings, honey, but you haven’t been outside for two days now. Why don’t you go saddle up Taffy and go riding for a few hours? I think it will do you good.”
Andi sat contemplating Mother’s offer. It sounded really inviting.
Dr. Weaver came in the door, “Elizabeth? Andi? I’d like to speak to you a minute.”
Elizabeth nodded, took Andi by the hand and followed him out the door.
Once the door was closed Elizabeth turned to the doctor. “What is it, John?”
“I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, Elizabeth.” He paused.
“Go on,” Elizabeth urged.
“They’re all dangerously sick. But Justin is the worst. I don’t know if....” His voice trailed off.
“What? I need to know,” Elizabeth persisted, near tears
The doctor turned to look her in the eye. “I don’t know if he’ll pull through this.”
Elizabeth breathed in sharp, and letting the tears come turned to hug Andi.
Andi wanted to scream. No this can’t be happening! It’s just a bad dream, she thought. Andi looked up at the doctor, “What can we do?”
“You’re doing everything you can already. Just pray. God can heal them,” Dr. Weaver managed a weak smile.
Andi faced her mother. “I’m going riding.”
Elizabeth nodded, “Don’t stay gone too long or I’ll be worried.”
Andi agreed and turned and hurried down the stairs. She needed some time alone to pray and think. Just her, Taffy, and God.