A Cedar Cove Christmas
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
“Wonderful.” Linc couldn’t have wished for anything more.
“I’ll give you directions to the Harding place. She’s on the phone now if you’d like to chat.”
Linc grinned, following Mack to the office, his brothers on his heels.
This was finally working out. They’d get Mary Jo home where she belonged before Christmas.
“No, please,” Mary Jo said, looking at Grace and her family. “I want you to go on to the Christmas Eve service, just like you planned.”
“Are you positive?” Grace seemed uncertain about leaving her behind.
Mary Jo had bowed to their entreaties and been their guest for a truly wonderful dinner, but she had no intention of imposing on them any further that evening.
“I am.” There was no reason for them to stay home because of her, either. This crazy adventure of hers was over; she’d admitted defeat. Her brothers were on their way and she’d be back in Seattle in a couple of hours.
“I’d like to meet those young men,” Grace said. “But it sounds as if they’ll get here while we’re at church.”
“You will meet them,” Mary Jo promised. “Sometime after Christmas.” In one short afternoon, she’d become strongly attached to both Grace Harding and Cliff. Her two daughters, her daughter-in-law, their husbands and the grandchildren had made Mary Jo feel like part of the family. They’d welcomed her without question, opened their hearts and their home to her, given her a place to sleep, a meal, the comfort of their company. In this day and age, Mary Jo knew that kind of unconditional friendship wasn’t the norm. This was a special family and she planned to keep in touch with them.
While the fathers loaded up the kids and Cliff brought his car around, Grace lingered.
“You have our phone number?” she asked as they stood by the front door.
“Oh, yes. Cell numbers, too.” Mary Jo patted her pants pocket. Grace had carefully written out all the numbers for her.
“You’ll call us soon.”
Mary Jo nodded. Grace was like the mother she’d lost—loving, protective, accepting. And now that she was becoming a mother herself, she valued her memory even more profoundly. It was Grace who’d reminded Mary Jo of everything her mother had been to her, of everything she wanted to be to her own child. Even though her baby wasn’t born yet, she felt blessed. Because of her pregnancy she’d met Grace, and she was grateful for everything it had brought her. A new maturity, the knowledge that she could rise to the occasion, that she had the strength to cope. This brand-new friendship. And, of course, the baby to come.
“If your brothers are hungry when they get here, there are plenty of leftovers,” Grace was saying. “Tell them to help themselves.”
Cliff brought the car closer to the house and got out to open the passenger door. Still Grace lingered.
“Don’t hesitate to phone if you need anything, understand?”
“I won’t—and thank you.” Wearing her coat like a cloak, Mary Jo walked outside with her into the softly falling snow.
“Wait in the house,” Grace said.
“I’ll be fine in the apartment. It’s comfortable there.”
The two women hugged and Grace slid into the car seat next to her husband. Maryellen, Kelly and Lisa, with their families, had already left for the church.
Grace lowered the window. “Thank you for being so patient with Tyler,” she said, giving her an apologetic look.
Mary Jo smiled, completely enchanted with the six-year-old who’d received a drum for Christmas and felt obliged to pound away on it incessantly.
“He’s a talented little boy.” In fact, she loved all of Grace and Cliff’s grandchildren.
“Now go inside before you get cold,” Grace scolded.
But Mary Jo remained in the yard until the car lights faded out of sight. Then, pulling her coat more snugly around her, she strolled toward the barn. Several of the participants in the live Nativity scene were inside a corral attached to the barn and she went there first.
“Hello there, donkey,” she said. “Merry Christmas to you.”
As if he understood that she was talking to him, the donkey walked toward her until he was within petting range. Mary Jo stroked his velvety nose, then walked back inside the barn.
At the sound of her voice, Funny Face stuck her head over the stall door.
“Hi there,” Mary Jo greeted the mare. “I understand you’re very special to Cliff,” she said. Funny Face nickered loudly in response.
Apparently curious as to what was causing all the commotion, the camel poked her head out, too. “Sorry, Camel,” Mary Jo called, “but your reputation has preceded you and I’m not giving you a chance to bite my arm.”
After several minutes of chatting with the other horses, Mary Jo washed her hands at a sink in the barn and headed up the stairs to the apartment. About halfway up, her back started to ache again. She pressed one hand against it and continued climbing, holding onto the railing with the other.
When she reached the apartment, she paused in the middle of removing her coat as she felt a powerful tightening across her stomach.
Was this labor?
She suspected it must be, but everything she’d heard and read stated that contractions began gradually. What she’d just experienced was intense and had lasted several long, painful seconds. Another contraction came almost right away.
Mary Jo checked her watch this time. Three minutes later there was a third contraction of equal severity.
Only three minutes.
At the class she’d attended, she’d heard that it wasn’t uncommon for labor pains to start at fifteen-minute intervals. Perhaps hers had started earlier and she hadn’t noticed. That didn’t seem possible, though. How could she be in labor and not know it?
The next pain caught her unawares and she grabbed her stomach and doubled over.
“That got my attention,” she announced to the empty room.
Not sure what to do next, Mary Jo paced, deliberating on the best course of action. Her brothers were due any moment. If she told them she was in labor the second they arrived, they’d panic. One thing Mary Jo knew: she did not want her three brothers delivering this baby.
None of them had any experience or even the slightest idea of what to do. Linc would probably order the baby to wait until they could get to a hospital. Knowing Mel and his queasy stomach, he’d fall in a dead faint, while Ned would walk around declaring that this was just perfect. He was going to be an uncle to a baby born on Christmas Eve—or Christmas Day, depending on how long this labor business was going to take.
Another pain struck and again Mary Jo bent double with the strength of it. She exhaled slowly and timed it, staring at her watch. This one lasted thirty seconds. Half a minute. It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast! Labor was supposed to last for hours and hours.
Mary Jo didn’t know what to do or who to call. Her mind was spinning, her thoughts scrambling in a dozen different directions at once. She considered phoning Grace. If she was going to give birth here, at the ranch, she wanted a woman with her—and she couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather have than Grace Harding. But Grace had left just a few minutes before and the only way to reach her was by cell phone. Unfortunately, as she’d learned earlier, coverage in this area was sporadic at best. And she hated to interfere with the Hardings’ Christmas plans.
The second person she thought of was Mack McAfee. He’d been so kind, and he was a trained medical technician. He was calm and logical, which was exactly what she needed. He’d called—when was it? Half an hour ago—and urged her to go home with her brothers. There’d be plenty of time to talk to Ben and Charlotte Rhodes after the baby’s birth. Her brothers wouldn’t have the opportunity to confront David or his father now, anyway, and she’d manage, somehow or other, to prevent it in the future, too. While she was speaking with Linc, she’d realized how desperate her brothers had been to find her. Mary Jo hadn’t meant to worry them like this.
If Linc or Mel or even Ned had reasoned with her like Mack had, she would’ve listened. Too late to worry about any of that now…
Mary Jo went slowly back down the stairs to the barn. She didn’t want to dial 9-1-1 and cause alarm the way she had with her dizzy spell at the library earlier, so she decided to call the fire station directly.
Sure enough, when she picked up the receiver she saw that Caller ID displayed the last number that had been received—the firehouse. Mary Jopushed there dial button.
On the second ring, someone picked up. “Kitsap County Fire District.”
Relief washed over her at the sound of Mack’s voice. “Mack?”
There was a slight hesitation. “Mary Jo? Is that you?”
“I…Grace and her family left for Christmas Eve service at the church about ten minutes ago. I didn’t go because my brothers are on their way here.”
“They haven’t arrived yet?” He seemed surprised.
Mack groaned. “I’ll bet they’re lost.”
Mary Jo didn’t doubt that for an instant.
“I’m sure they’ll be there anytime,” he said.
“I hate to bother you,” she whispered and gasped at the severity of the next contraction.
Closing her eyes, she mentally counted until the pain subsided.
“What’s wrong?” he asked urgently.
“I’m afraid I’ve gone into labor.”
Mack didn’t miss a beat. “Then I should get out there so I can transport you to the birthing center.”
At the rate this was progressing, he’d better not lose any time. “Thank you,” she said simply.
He must have sensed her fear, because he asked, “How far apart are the contractions?”
“Three minutes. I’ve been timing them.”
“I didn’t take all the birthing classes…I wish I had, but David said he’d take them with me and it never happened. I went once but that was just last week and—”
“You’ll do fine. If you want, I’ll stay with you.”
“I’m not such a bad coach.”
“You’d be a wonderful coach, but you have to remember I’ve only had the one class.”
“Listen, instead of talking about it over the phone, why don’t I hop in the aid car and drive over.”
“Ri-ight.” At the strength of the last contraction, Mary Jo was beginning to think this was an excellent idea.
“Where are you?”
“In the barn at the moment.” She gave a small laugh.
“Why is that funny?”
“I’m with the animals from the live Nativity scene.”
Mack laughed then, too. “That seems appropriate under the circumstances, but I want you to go to the house and wait for me there.”