Page 21

 Emma Chase

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Riley, Rory, Rosaleen, Regan, and Ronan file in, waving their arms and gesturing wildly to me.
“Why are there children in my courtroom?” the cranky judge booms from the bench. “Is this a class trip?”
I raise a finger. “They’re mine, Judge.”
“All of them?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Bring-your-child-to-work day was a few months ago, Mr. Becker.”
I watch Rory make a giant arch in front of his stomach, then squeeze his face like he’s got a bad case of constipation—and my heart skips three fucking beats.
“My charade skills are rusty, but I’m pretty sure they’re here to tell me my wife is in labor.”
“Yes! That’s it!” Regan yells.
“Shhh!” Rosaleen hisses at her.
“Don’t shhh me!”
Rosaleen opens her mouth with a comeback, but the bang of the judge’s gavel stops her in her tracks. I should really get a gavel for the house.
“Emergency continuance, Judge?”
He nods. “Granted. Good luck, Mr. Becker—looks like you need it.”
As soon as he strikes the gavel again, I’m in front of Riley, her face pale and wild. “Aunt Chelsea is in labor.”
Okay, okay—we planned for this. It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming. My mother’s lined up to stay with the kids; Chelsea’s bag is packed.
“Is she at the hospital?”
“No, she’s home. Raymond’s with her. She didn’t want to go without you and you weren’t answering your phone, so I came to get you. Everyone wanted to come and I didn’t want to waste time arguing about it, so I drove the truck.”
“You drove the truck?”
Riley has never driven the truck—it’s a lot of car for a teenager.
She nods. “I took out two mailboxes on the way here and didn’t stop to leave a note. Am I going to get a ticket?”
I take her arm and guide her out the door with the rest of the gang following behind us.
“No—we’ll figure it out.”
Five minutes later, everyone is buckled in and I’m driving like a NASCAR champion to get to my wife. In the passenger seat, Riley lowers her phone.
“They’re still not answering.”
“Why the fuck aren’t they answering?” I squeeze the steering wheel—only just managing to keep my shit together.
“Why are you guys freaking out?” Rory asks from the backseat.
“Because Aunt Chelsea’s having the baby!” Rosaleen snipes.
“So? Chicks have babies every day. What’s the big deal?”
Regan joins the conversation. “You’re such a moron, Rory.”
“Shut up!”
“You shut up!”
“Be. Quiet.” I don’t yell. I don’t have to. The steel in my tone snaps all mouths closed.
We pull up to the house fifteen minutes later. I barely get the car in park before I’m sprinting through the front door.
The house is shockingly still. Almost eerily so.
“We’re back here!” Raymond calls from my bedroom.
I sense all the kids coming in behind me as I take long, quick strides down the hall. Raymond stands outside our closed bathroom door—ashen and worried.
“Something’s wrong, Jake. She keeps saying she’s fine but she doesn’t sound fine.”
I squeeze his shoulder. “Okay, I’m here.”
I walk into the bathroom and know right away that Raymond is correct.
Chelsea is definitely not fine.
She sits on the floor, propped up against the wall; her face is colorless and damp with sweat and tears. There’s fluid on the ground between her legs and soaked into the hem of her yellow sundress.
She grips the phone tight in her hand when she sees me. And says weakly, “You’re here.”
I swallow hard. “Yeah, baby, I’m here. Looks like you had a busy morning.”
She manages a small laugh, then speaks into the phone. “Yes, my husband, Jake, is here. I’ll put him on.”
In an instant I’m kneeling next to her. She passes me the phone. “This is Earl. Nine-one-one. I called for an ambulance but there’s a water main break so they’re going to be a while.”
I take the phone but don’t bring it to my ear. “I can take you to the hospital now.”
Her face pinches in agony and she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Jake. This is all my fault.”
“Shhh, it’s okay.”
“All the books say it takes hours and hours . . . I mean, Kennedy was in labor for two freaking days! So when the contractions started this morning, I thought I could wait until you came home. I knew you were in court . . . I’m such an idiot.”
“It’s all right, Chelsea.”
“Oh God, it hurts. I need to push so bad, Jake. We’re not going to make it to the hospital.”
I can’t tell you why, but I ask, “Are you serious?”
Her face goes hard and furious. “Do I look like I’m fucking joking?”
Okay, she’s serious.
Holy shit.
“Riley, Raymond, Rory—in here now!” I turn on my knees when the three of them stand in the doorway. “Riley . . .”
I don’t have to say anything else. She’s at Chelsea’s side, holding her hand. “Yeah, I’m here.”