A Cedar Cove Christmas
Page 21

 Debbie Macomber

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Pastor Flemming grinned. “Although I have two sons and no daughters, I know what I’d think. I’d assume that a teenage girl—or her boyfriend—would say anything to explain how this had happened.”
Most people in the congregation smiled and agreed with nodding heads. Grace cringed a little, remembering as vividly as ever the day she’d told her parents she was pregnant. She remembered their disappointment, their anger and, ultimately, their support. Then she thought of Mary Jo and turned to exchange a quick glance with Olivia.
“And yet,” the pastor went on, “this child, the very son of God, was growing inside her womb. Mary revealed remarkable faith, but then so did her family and Joseph, the young man to whom she was engaged.”
Something briefly distracted the pastor and he looked to his left. “I can see the children are ready and eager to begin their performance, so I won’t take up any more time. I do want to say this one thing, however. As a boy, I was given the role of a shepherd standing guard over his sheep when the angel came to announce the birth of the Christ Child. When I grew up, I chose, in a sense, the very same job—that of a shepherd. Every one of you is a member of my flock and I care for you deeply. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” the congregation echoed.
As he stepped down from the podium, the children took their positions on the makeshift stage. Grace moved right to the end of her pew to get a better view of the proceedings. Katie stood proudly in place, her gold wings jutting out from her small shoulders and her halo sitting crookedly atop her head. She couldn’t have looked more angelic if she’d tried.
Tyler had borrowed one of Cliff’s walking sticks to use as a staff. He was obviously still annoyed to be without his precious drum, glaring at the congregation as if to inform them that he was doing this under protest. Grace had to smother a laugh.
Oh, how Dan would’ve loved seeing his grandchildren tonight. Their grandson was like his grandfather in so many ways. A momentary sadness came over her and not wanting anyone to sense her thoughts, Grace looked away. She didn’t often think about Dan anymore. She’d loved her first husband, had two daughters with him, and through the years they’d achieved a comfortable life together.
But Dan had never been the same after Vietnam. For a lot of years, Grace had blamed herself and her own failings for his unhappiness. Dan knew that and had done his best to make things right in the letter he wrote her before his death.
Christmas Eve, however, wasn’t a night for troubled memories. The grandchildren Dan would never know were onstage, giving the performances of their young lives.
Out of the corner of her eye, Grace noticed Angel, the church secretary, rushing down the side aisle and toward the front. She went to the first pew, where Pastor Flemming sat with his wife, Emily.
Angel whispered something in his ear and the pastor nodded. He left with her. Apparently there was some sort of emergency.
“Look, there’s a star in the East,” Leif Gunderson, Olivia’s grandson, shouted. As one of the three Wise Men, he pointed at the church ceiling.
“Let us follow the star,” the second of the Wise Men called out.
It wasn’t until Cliff tapped her arm that she realized Angel was trying to get her attention. She stood in the side aisle and motioned with her finger for Grace to come out.
“What’s that about?” Cliff asked as she picked up her purse.
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you as soon as I find out.”
He nodded.
Grace hurried down the center aisle to the foyer, reaching it just as Angel did. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“It’s a miracle I was even in the office,” Angel said.
This confused Grace. “What do you mean?”
“For the phone call,” she explained. “I went to get a pair of scissors. Mrs. Murphy, the first-grade Sunday School teacher, needed scissors and I thought there was a pair in my desk.”
“The phone call,” Grace reminded her.
“Oh, yes, sorry. It was from some young firefighter.”
“Mack McAfee?” Grace blurted out.
“No, no, Brandon Hutton. At any rate, he wanted to speak to the pastor.”
“Has there been an accident?”
“No…I don’t know. I think it would be best if you talked to Pastor Flemming yourself. He asked me to get you.”
Dave Flemming was on the phone, a worried expression on his face. When he saw Grace, he held out the receiver. “You’d better take this.”
Grace dismissed her first fear, that there’d been an accident. Everyone she loved, everyone who was important to her here in Cedar Cove, was inside the church.
“This is Grace Harding,” she said into the receiver, her voice quavering slightly.
“Ms. Harding, this is EMT Hutton from the Kitsap County Fire District. We received a distress call from a young woman who’s currently at your home.”
Grace gasped. “Mary Jo? She’s still at the house? Is she all right?”
“I believe so, ma’am. However, she’s in labor and asking for you.”
“Won’t you be transporting her to the hospital? Shouldn’t I meet you there?” Grace would notify Cliff and they could leave together.
From the moment she’d left the house, some instinct had told her she should’ve stayed with Mary Jo. Some inner knowledge that said Mary Jo would be having her baby not in two weeks but now. Tonight.
“We won’t be transporting her, Ms. Harding.”
“Good heavens, why not?” Grace demanded, wondering if it was a jurisdictional matter. If so, she’d get Olivia involved.
“It appears Ms. Wyse is going to give birth imminently. We don’t have time to transport her.”
“She’s not alone, is she?”
“No, ma’am. EMT McAfee is with her.”
Mack. Thank goodness. “What about her brothers?” she asked. Surely they’d arrived by now.
“There’s no one else here, ma’am.”
Grace’s heart started to pound. “I’ll get there as quickly as possible.”
“One last thing,” Officer Hutton added. “Do you normally keep camels in your barn?”
“No. But be warned. She bites.”
“She’s already attempted to take a piece out of me. I managed to avoid it, though.”
She set down the receiver and turned to Pastor Flemming. “A young woman who’s staying with us has gone into labor.”
“So I understand.”
“I’ll collect my husband and get going.” Grace hated to miss the pageant but there was nothing she could do about it.
Returning to the pew, she explained to Cliff what was happening. Maryellen twisted around and Grace told her, too.
“She doesn’t have anything for the baby, does she?” Maryellen asked.
Grace hadn’t even thought of that. She had blankets and a few other supplies for her grandchildren, but the disposable diapers would be far too big.
“Jon and I will stop by the house and get some things for Mary Jo and the baby and drop them off. I’m sure I still have a package of newborn-size diapers, too.”
Grace touched her daughter’s shoulder, grateful for Maryellen’s quick thinking.
“We’ll bring Lisa, Rich and April back to the house,” Kelly whispered. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“Me, neither,” Lisa said. “There couldn’t be a more ideal way to celebrate Christmas!”
“You’re doing great,” Mack assured Mary Jo.
“No, I’m not,” she cried, exhaling a harsh breath. Giving birth was hard, harder than she’d ever envisioned and the pain…the pain was indescribable.
The second EMT came back into the bedroom. “I talked to your friend and she’s on her way.”
“Thank God.” It was difficult for Mary Jo to speak in the middle of a contraction. The pain was so intense and she panted, imitating Mack who’d shown her a breathing exercise to help deal with it.
Mack held her hand and she squeezed as tight as she could, so tight she was afraid she might be hurting him. If that was the case, he didn’t let on.
“Get a cool damp washcloth,” Mack instructed the other man.
“Got it.” As though thankful for something to do, Brandon Hutton shot out of the room and down the hallway to the bathroom.
“I’m going to check you again,” Mack told her.
“No!” She clung to his hand, gripping it even tighter.
“I need you here. Beside me.”
“Mary Jo, I have to see what position the baby’s in.”
“Okay, okay.” She closed her eyes. Sweat poured off her forehead. Now she knew why giving birth was called labor. This was the hardest thing she’d ever done. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to go to any more classes, or to finish reading the books she’d started…. She’d thought she had two more weeks. If only she hadn’t waited for David, or believed him when he’d said he wanted to attend the birthing classes with her. This was what she got for trusting him.
Suddenly liquid gushed from between her legs. “What was that?” she cried.
“Your water just broke.”
“Oh.” She’d forgotten about that. She had a vague recollection of other women’s stories about their water breaking.
“That’s good, isn’t it?” she asked. What she hoped was that it meant her baby was almost ready to be born and this agony would come to an end.
“It’s good,” he told her.
“It’ll be better now, right?”
Mack hesitated.
“What’s wrong?” she demanded. “Tell me.”
“Your labor may intensify.”
This had to be a cruel joke. “Intensify.” She couldn’t imagine how the pains could get any stronger than they were now. “What do you mean…intensify?”
“The contractions will probably last longer….”
“Oh, no,” she moaned.
Although she’d discovered this was Mack’s first birth, he knew so much more than she did. He’d at least studied it and obviously paid attention during class. Mack had joked that he was getting on-the-job training—and so was she, but that part didn’t seem so amusing anymore.
“The baby’s fully in the birth canal. It won’t be long now, Mary Jo. Just a few more pains and you’ll have your baby.”
“Thank God.” Mary Jo didn’t know how much more of this she could take.
“Rest between contractions,” Mack advised.
Brandon Hutton returned with a damp washcloth. Mack took it from him and wiped her face. The cool cloth against her heated skin felt wonderfully refreshing.
At the approach of another pain, she screamed, “Mack! Mack!”
Instantly he was at her side, his hand holding hers. Her fingers tightened around his.
“Count,” she begged.
“One, two, three…”
The numbers droned on and she concentrated on listening to the even cadence of Mack’s voice, knowing that by the time he reached fifty, the contraction would ease.