To start at the beginning, go to PART 1.
Andi did not get her wish. When she opened her eyes, it was not Mother but Justin who was lifting her up in his arms. His face was pale, and his eyebrows were scrunched up in a worried frown. “What’s the matter, honey?” he said softly. “How do you feel?”
Hot tears gathered behind Andi’s eyelids. She blinked and felt a tear dribble down the side of her face and into her ear. “I’m hot.” She shivered. “No, I’m cold.” She shook her head. “I’m . . .” She broke off and started crying softly. “I want Mother.”
“All in good time,” Justin said quietly. “But first we’ll visit Dr. Weaver. You’re burning up.” He straightened to his full height and hefted Andi higher. “It won’t take long.”
Andi felt her feet dangling off the floor. She snuggled her head against Justin’s chest and tried to make sense of where she was.
“I do hope it’s nothing too serious, Justin.”
Hearing Miss Hall’s frightened voice made everything click. School. The pageant practice. She moaned. I swooned, just like a weak, lily-livered, corseted young lady. A worse thought quickly followed. In front of everybody!
Andi raised her head weakly, horrified that she might see her schoolmates’ jeering looks. But the classroom was empty. Miss Hall must have dismissed school and shooed the students out the door while Andi was unconscious. She let out a shallow breath of relief.
Justin met Miss Hall’s gaze with a steady look. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, ma’am. Right now, if you could find Andi’s cloak, we’ll be on our way.”
Miss Hall put a hand to her chest. “Oh, dear. Of course. Come with me.”
Justin’s rhythmic steps lulled Andi into a stupor, in spite of the burning in her throat and her throbbing head. She floated in and out, barely noticing when Miss Hall and Justin worked to wrap her in her outerwear.
“Use my shawl to cover her head,” Miss Hall offered. “It’s pouring rivers outdoors.”
Andi fingered the wooly garment that smelled like the classroom, but she was too tired and too miserable to thrust it from her face.
Justin mumbled his thanks and hurried from the schoolroom. The world blurred into the sound of clattering footsteps, pattering rain, and horses’ hooves. Andi felt herself heaved to and fro, until the sound of a slamming door and the doctor’s cheerful voice woke her completely.
She stayed awake long enough to sit up so Dr. Weaver could peer into her eyes and ears and then down her throat. He frowned when he looked at her tongue before poking a thermometer under it.
A few minutes later he checked the thermometer, patted Andi’s arm, and let her lie down. Then he turned to Justin. “I’ll wait for the rash to show up—should be a day or two—before I make my final diagnosis, but offhand I’d say she’s got herself a case of scarlet fever.”
Andi felt Justin’s hand squeeze hers. He licked his lips and said, “How bad?”
“Hard to say at the moment.” Dr. Weaver shrugged. “Right now I suggest you bundle her up well and whisk her home as fast as your buggy can carry you. She needs careful nursing, but Elizabeth will have my hide if I insist she stay here with me.”
Justin smiled, the first time Andi had seen one so far this afternoon. “You’re right about that, John.” He fumbled with Andi’s cloak and accepted a woolen blanket and a package of licorice lozenges the doctor held out. “Thanks.”
“The lozenges, along with ice chips, will help soothe her throat,” Dr. Weaver said. “But she’ll have to fight off the fever herself. There’s no quick cure.”
Justin’s jaw clenched. “I know.”
When Andi was wrapped up like a caterpillar in a cocoon, Justin hiked her up in his arms and turned to go.
Dr. Weaver opened the door. “I’ll drop by the ranch tomorrow to check up on her,” he promised. He laid a gentle hand on Andi’s forehead and smiled. “You lie quietly, do what your mother tells you, drink lots of tea, and suck on the lozenges.” He winked. “You’ll be fine in a week or two.”
A week or two? Andi’s heart leapt to her sore throat, making it feel tighter than ever. Her eyes were too dry for tears, but she caught her breath and whispered, “I can’t be sick. Not now. I’m Mary in the pageant and—”
“Hush, my dear,” Dr. Weaver chided her softly. “Don’t overexert yourself. You’ll only make yourself more ill.”
How could she make herself sicker than she already felt? Andi wanted to argue with Dr. Weaver—beg him, even—to give her medicine that would make her well by the next day. She had to go to school. She had to be there for the practice.
By the time she gathered her woozy wits to form what she wanted to say to the doctor, Justin had bundled her out the door and into the covered buggy. He climbed in beside her and slapped the reins over Pal’s back. The horse jumped into a fast trot.
Andi remembered no more.
It took Andi less than twenty-four hours to realize that scarlet fever was nothing like a cold. Or chicken pox. Or even influenza. None of those ailments set her throat on fire or made her see wild horses racing around her room. They snorted and reared, and Andi couldn’t get away. The next minute, the horses galloped far, far away, down a long, dark tunnel that turned into the size of a pinprick. A second later, the pinprick swelled to a gigantic horse’s head, which opened its mouth and—
“Mother!” Andi clutched the sheets and thrashed her head from side to side. “Make it go away.”
Mother’s quiet voice whispering “there, there” and a cold cloth on her head brought Andi back to reality. Her eyes opened. In the light of the low-burning lamp on the nightstand, she saw Mother at her bedside. She told her about the horses. “They were all around me,” she finished with a sob.
“Shhh,” Mother said. “You’re just delirious.”
She stood up, but Andi grasped her hand. “Don’t go!”
“I’m only going to ask Mitch to break off some chunks of ice from the block in the icebox. I’ll be right back.” She bent down and brushed Andi’s sweat-soaked hair from her face. “You’ll feel better in the morning.”
But Andi did not feel better in the morning. Dr. Weaver checked her neck and her face, then gently rolled her over and peeked at her back. He let out a sigh. “Yes, it’s scarlet fever, all right. There’s no mistaking this rash.” He looked up at Mother. “Two more cases broke out during the night. I hope that’s as far as it goes, but one can never be sure.”
He rose, shaking his head. “So far, Andi’s case is not too bad, not like Mitch’s bout with the disease all those years back.”
“I hope not!” Mother sucked in a breath. “We almost lost him.”
“Mitch was just a tot,” Dr. Weaver assured her. “Andi’s a strong, young girl.” He grinned and patted Andi’s knee. “You’ll beat this thing.”
“Not in time for the pageant,” Andi croaked, then she winced. It hurt like the dickens to talk. Even if they let her go, she’d never be able to say more than one line before swallowing in agony. The ice chips numbed her throat for a minute, but the licorice lozenges did nothing.
After Dr. Weaver left, Andi slept. The frightening vision of the horses came and went. She remembered nothing more than ice chips, cold cloths, fresh sheets, and lukewarm, awful tea. During her lucid moments, Andi wondered if she would ever feel well again.