“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“So? Chicks have babies every day. What’s the big deal?”
“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.
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 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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
Tears leak from Chelsea’s eyes as she caresses Riley’s hair. “You’re such a good girl. You always were.”
I stand up to talk to the boys. They’re stock-still and staring.
I put my hand on his shoulder. “She’s gonna be fine.”
He looks up at my face, demanding, “Give me your word.”
“You’ve got it.” He nods and I tell him, “Take your brother and sisters out into the living room. Keep them there and keep them calm. Can you do that for me, kid?”
“Yeah—I’m on it.” He glances around me. “I love you, Aunt Chelsea.”
Chelsea smiles, despite her obvious pain. “I love you, too, Rory. Don’t worry.”
I wrap one hand around Raymond’s arm, bringing his attention to me. “Your aunt is having the baby.”
“Here. Now. And I really need you not to freak out about it, Raymond. Bring me towels, scissors, string. Then boil some water, just in case.”
From what I read, the boiling water is for sterilizing things, and I don’t think we’re going to have time for that. But it’ll keep Raymond busy so he doesn’t worry himself sick.
I give his arm another squeeze. “Are you with me?”
His face tightens with determination. “Yeah. We got this.”
I let myself take one last big breath as he leaves. Then I kneel back down beside Chelsea. From the living room, I can hear the little kids crying. Arguing. Calling for her.