July 7, 1887
I’ve had some memorable Fourth of Julys in my life, but this year’s Fourth has turned out to be the most memorable. My hand still shakes as I write these words three days later.
I had hoped and prayed the baby would make his or her appearance by June 30. That didn’t happen. Instead, I lost Jasper, but if the truth be told, I didn’t have much time to shed tears. I was too busy being miserable.
July in California is hot, hot, hot. July 1 entered with a heat wave that tempted me to sit down in what remained of our creek—fully clothed if necessary. Worse, this baby was proving as stubborn as his mama.
I wanted this all over with before the Fourth of July. Even on July 1 I had fantasies of birthing this baby and showing him (or her) off in town three days later. If my mother ever got wind of my idea, she would have forbidden me to do such a foolish thing, even if I’m grown and married.
So, when the Fourth of July dawned hot—but not as hot as the days before—I was determined to go into town to see the parade.
Riley was just as determined that I stay home. “My head spins thinking about what would happen if I let you do such a fool thing. You are much too close to your time. Your mother would have my hide hung out to dry.”
Riley won. I mean, honestly, even if I did defy him, how would I get to town in the first place? I had lent Shasta to Mitch so he could win the race, and I did feel kind of lousy that morning.
So, I gave in.
I stood on the porch and enviously watched the ranch hands gallop away for the festivities in town. Riley had given all three of them the day off. I bit my lip as I thought of all the things I was missing—speeches, fireworks, sideshows, and horse races.
Especially the horse races.
Mitch was competing this year, and more than anything I wanted to be in the audience, the baby in my arms, cheering for him and Shasta.
Now I’ll miss it all. I sighed and entered the house. Dirty darn. A few tears pricked my eyes. I was so tired of carrying this baby around. It’s not fair!
“Don’t look so glum, Andi.” Riley had donned my apron and was washing the breakfast dishes for me.
“Easy for you to say,” I snapped. “You’re not the one lugging this extra weight around.”
Riley smiled. “You should be glad.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Whatever for?”
“For a husband like me.” He wrinkled his nose. “Men don’t usually do women’s work, you know. Washing dishes is definitely women’s work.”
“You don’t say!” I giggled. He did look funny in that red-checked apron and with suds up to his elbows.
Riley rinsed the last dish and reached for a towel. “I want you to take it easy today. Go read a book or sew or something.”
“Read or sew?” I grimaced. “No thanks. Not me.”
“Then take a nap.”
“I reckon that sounds better than your other ideas, but I’m not sleepy. For goodness’ sake, Riley! I want to do something fun today. Especially since I can’t go into town.” I made a face. “I think I’ll take a walk before this heat sucks me dry.”
“Wait a minute and I’ll go with you.”
“Really?” I pulled on my hat and knotted the stampede strings. “You don’t need to hover over me. I’m fine.”
“I feel like a walk too.”
Sure he did. So he could fuss over me like an old aunt. “Hurry up then.”
“Hold your horses. I’m almost finished.”
Riley swept the towel over the remaining plate, tucked it away in the cabinet, and, wringing out the towel, hung it over the sink to dry. “I’ve got to check something in the barn, and then we can take that walk.”
I let out an impatient breath. “Fine. I’ll meet you down at the creek. We can go wading. How about that? My feet are so hot and swollen, it would feel good.”
Riley grinned. “Sure. And maybe some splashing. Good idea.” He pulled on his hat and headed outside.
It didn’t take me long to walk to the creek. Or what was left of it. The spring rush was well over, but at least a good-sized trickle remained. It was enough to dip my toes in.
I sat down and started to pull off my boots. It was tough, as I could barely reach them. I huffed and puffed and fell backward in exhaustion. Ooooh! Where was Riley when I needed him? He could be useful pulling off my boots.
I started to chuckle, but suddenly—with no warning—a ripping pain stabbed across my belly. I gasped and shot up to a sitting position. That really hurt. I hoped nothing was wrong with Baby Prescott.
This only goes to show how dumb I was.
A few days before, Mother had ridden over. She seemed worried about me, just a little. I guess she wanted to have that all-important Mother-Daughter talk about what to expect when it was time for the baby to make an appearance.
She asked me if I’d had any birthing pains yet.
Not a twinge.
So Mother assured me that if I did have belly aches in the next few days, it was nothing to worry about. It only meant my body was getting ready for the real work.
“But when you do, send for me,” she ended our conversation. “I’m happy to stay for a week or more. One just never knows.”
Another pain—just like a knife cutting across my belly—took my breath away.
And I suddenly grasped what was going on. These must be those practice pains Mother was talking about. I relaxed, then shuddered. If these are the practice ones, what will the real ones feel like?
“Andi!” Riley called. He came running up to me, all smiles. “How’s the water?”
I didn’t answer. I gave him a look that must have scared him, for he fell down beside me.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I think I’m having some pains.”
He caught his breath.
“Mother says they’re only practice ones though. When the ranch hands return from the celebration, you can send one of them over to the ranch.” I licked my lips. “Because I think I want my mother.”
Another pain—stronger this time—gripped me, and I gasped.
I shook my head. “It’s all right.”
“No, it’s not.” Riley looked shaken. “I’ll go get your mother right—”
I grabbed his hand. “No. You can’t leave me here all alone. These might be practice pains like Mother says, but they hurt mighty bad.”
Was Mother wrong? Could these be the real thing? Could I really be having the baby now? Today?
Riley rose and pulled me to my feet. “Well, the least I can do is make you comfortable. We’re going inside. Our walk is over.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. Something was wrong. This was too fast. And too painful to be practice anything. My heart raced, but I took a few deep breaths and calmed myself.
“First babies take at least a day—or more—to come,” Mother had told me. “People aren’t like a mare or a cow. A mare might foal in an hour or two. Sometimes faster.” She’d laughed and patted my hand. “Your oldest brother took all day and all night to come. And do you remember Lucy’s first?”
I had shaken my head. I was only a young girl back then. I knew nothing about babies—only foals and calves. One day Lucy was in the family way. The next time I saw her, Sammy was a swaddled bundle on her lap.
She made it look so easy.
I pondered. If babies took all day, then maybe Riley did have time to fetch Mother.
I was ready to let him go when another pain hit me. It came awfully close to the one before it. By the time I got back to the house, I knew. I was really and truly about to have the baby.
Then a worse thought hit me. If I had skipped all those “practice” pains that supposedly come and go a week or two ahead of the real event, then might this baby decide he or she was not going to wait a full day and night? Even if it was the first?
I felt sick.
No, no, no! Please not today. Not with Mother in town and no one around to fetch her. Or Dr. Weaver.
Pleading with myself did not work. Not even clenching my fists worked. Baby Prescott was coming, and there was nothing I could do about it.
When my water broke with the next pain, I knew I was stuck. Really stuck.
And I was scared to death.