The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before

Chapter 19 - Worry
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
“Mama Julie?” Julie opened her eyes one morning in early October when she heard Laura’s voice. She noticed the sun from the window shining in her eyes. “Mama Julie?” Laura called again. Julie allowed herself to wake up. She reached out and took Laura’s hand as her concerned face looked down into hers. “You awake?”
 
Julie sat up in bed quickly when she realized she had overslept, but immediately, she had to lay back down when the room started to spin. She pressed a hand to her forehead, hoping the sense of nausea that had suddenly swept over her would subside. “What is it, Laura?”
 
“Are you sick or something? The boys are up. I think they’re hungry.” Laura continued to look down at Julie.
 
“The boys…” Julie stopped as she slowly sat up again. She felt the room spinning and thought she was about to lose the contents of anything still left in her stomach from supper the night before. “Is it that late?” Julie turned to look out the window. She closed her eyes and tried to force her stomach to calm down.
 
“I thought I had to go to school today?” Laura asked as Julie put her hands to her face.
 
“Oh!” Julie stood up. Abe had left the day before to go hunting. He was expected back later that day. Julie shuffled to the door in her bare feet and shivered. “It’s a bit cool today, don’t you think, Laura?”
 
Laura hurried over to Julie. “I would’ve fixed breakfast myself, but you said to never light the stove.”
 
“It’s okay, Laura. I just…” Julie put a hand to her mouth. “Laura, I need to go out back. Would you watch the boys?” Julie hurried out the back door before Laura could even answer.
 
Laura went into the front room and picked up some pieces of wood for the fire. She opened the door on the stove and started filling it with wood. While she was doing that, Peter knocked on the front door then entered. “Julie, I’m here to…” Peter stopped when he saw Laura at the stove. “Where’s Julie?”
 
“She went out back,” Laura answered. “Mama Julie overslept. I’m just gettin’ the wood in the stove.”
 
“Laura, you aren’t even dressed for school yet.” Peter motioned towards her bedroom. “Now…you go on in there and get ready for school.”
 
Peter worked on putting wood in the fire. He heard the back door open, then close. Peter turned to see Julie looking very pale. “Peter…what are you doing here?”
 
“Abe asked me to come by this morning and see about the chores,” Peter answered. He raised his eyebrows as he looked her up and down. Julie, suddenly realized she was still in her night gown, let out a gasp and hurried toward the bedroom.
 
Peter got the fire started while Julie dressed. Julie hurried from the bedroom. “Laura!” She called. “Laura, it’s time to go to school!” Julie hurried into the kitchen and worked on fixing fresh coffee. “Oh Peter, I don’t even have breakfast started!” Julie smoothed her hair back. As soon as she got Laura off to school, she would put her hair up. “I guess I got to bed a little late last night and I…”
 
But if she was completely honest with herself, she hadn’t stayed up late. In fact, not having Abe to talk to after the kids were down left her feeling a bit lonely so she had gone to bed earlier than usual. No…the reason for her late awakening was something else. But it was something she didn’t even want to admit to herself, let alone tell her brother-in-law.
 
“Are you alright?” Peter asked as he studied her closely. “You look a bit…pale.”
 
“I’m just tired.” Julie turned and looked at her sons. “Oh, David!” She ran over to get David, who had once again managed to make a mess with the cornmeal. She removed David from the mess, but he started screaming. Julie paid no mind to his screams as she firmly sat him in his highchair at the table and turned to do the same with her other children. “Laura, please hurry and get ready for school!” Julie called in a frustrated voice.
 
Laura hurried from her bedroom. “Could you button me up?”
 
“Your hair isn’t even up!” Julie declared.
 
“I’m gonna wear it down today,” Laura announced.
 
“Oh no you aren’t, young lady! I don’t want you coming home with your hair all dirty! Now, march right back in that room and…” Julie reached out and gave Laura a firm smack on the backside. “You still need to eat!”
 
“She hasn’t eaten…” Peter mumbled. “Julie, school starts in five minutes.”
 
“I know school starts in five minutes!” Julie snapped suddenly. She pressed a hand to her forehead and turned toward Peter. “I’m sorry. It’s just one of those mornings.”
 
Peter held up his hands. “I tell you what, Laura Rose. You get your books and hurry on down the hill. I think Emily’s still got some biscuits and gravy she can give you. Emily can help you get your hair up as well.” Peter watched Laura hurry out the door. Then he turned back to Julie. “Perhaps I should send for Margaret. She should come help you this morning.”
 
“No!” Julie took another breath and held up a hand. “I…I can handle it. You just go do whatever it is you came to do.”
 
Julie took a pan from the cabinet and started heating oatmeal up as Peter walked out the door.
 
The morning didn’t go well. Julie seemed to mess everything up. The boys were not satisfied with their breakfast. This left everyone very moody. Charlie was put in the naughty chair twice before Julie even had a chance to get one thing done in the house. And nothing would stay down. If she put a single bite of anything in her mouth, it would come right out again.
 
Lunch was no better than breakfast. The entire house was in dishevel, because the few times Julie DID manage to get the boys to settle down and play nicely, she was too dizzy to do anything. And while cooking lunch, she had two screaming boys pulling on her legs while the other two fought over some little toy they each wanted.
 
Julie was certainly glad when nap time came.  She didn’t even bother cleaning up the mess from lunch, but took all four boys into one bedroom and laid down with them until they fell asleep. She almost fell asleep herself, but finally forced herself to get up. Julie slowly walked out to the rocking chair and sat down. She wasn’t feeling well, and she didn’t have to hazard a guess as to why. She felt her eyes fill with tears as she remembered back. She started weeping.
 
A brief knock sounded on the door before it opened. Julie didn’t have time to stand up before Margaret walked in. Margaret paused when she saw Julie sitting in her rocking chair. She saw the tears on Julie’s face. Margaret looked at the table and noticed it was still covered with dirty dishes. The kitchen was a mess as well. In fact, the whole house looked to be in disarray. “Julie? What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing.” Julie stood and wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. “Everything’s just fine.” She forced a smile on her face as she reached for the bucket. “I’ll just go for some water.”
 
“Julie, I…” Margaret walked to the door and watched her race toward the creek. She turned and looked at the table. Shaking her head, she went to clean up the mess.
 
***
 
Julie couldn’t help remembering back to that horrible day…the day she lost her baby. She remembered the pain – not the physical pain, but the dull ache that had settled in her heart for days…weeks…and today it felt as raw as it had that day. Julie sat down on the bank of the creek and put her head in her hands as she sobbed. She allowed her body to shake as she sobbed out loud for the loss she still felt. She couldn’t go through that again! She just couldn’t!
 
In time, Julie stood up and wiped her eyes. Then she dipped the bucket in the water and walked back toward the house.
 
When she got back into the house, Margaret turned and smiled at her. She froze when she saw that her eyes were red. “Okay, now I know something’s wrong!” Margaret declared as she sat down the clean silverware. She gently grabbed Julie’s shoulders. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
 
Julie allowed more tears to slip from her eyes. “I…haven’t had my cycle and I am two weeks late. I’m feeling sick to my stomach, extremely weak and dizzy…the room spins…all the time!”
 
“Are you sick?”
 
Julie shook her head as she walked toward the window. “Not exactly.”
 
“You’re pregnant!” Margaret declared. Julie lowered her head and started crying again. “Oh Julie…” Margaret hurried up to her. “Julie, you should be pleased that God has blessed you with another child!”
 
“I can’t go through that again! I can’t bare the pain of losing my baby again…” Julie shook her head.
 
“You won’t!” Margaret tried to assure her.
 
“Oh, you don’t understand!” Julie rested her head against the window. “I wasn’t sick with Charlie or the triplets! I always felt so good! But the baby I miscarried…”
 
“No!” Margaret rushed up behind her. “You should go to the doctor. I’ll watch the children and…”
 
“NO!” Julie swung around. “Oh NO! I can’t…” Julie turned toward Margaret. “Please…don’t tell anybody about this…not even your family! PLEASE!” Hot tears forced themselves from her eyes as Julie clinched her fingers and pleaded with her friend.
 
Margaret studied her. She hoped she never knew how it felt to lose a life that was growing inside you. She could see the pain that filled Julie’s very being, and knew the baby she lost took a piece of her heart with her. Finally, Margaret nodded. “Alright. I’ll stay quiet. But honey, you are going to be okay! Nothing’s going to happen.”
 
Julie hurried to the kitchen. “I’ve got to get this floor mopped before the children get up.”
 
Margaret continued cleaning up the kitchen as she watched Julie begin scrubbing the floor. She could tell Julie was carrying a heavy heart. Finally, Margaret stopped and walked over to Julie. “You should tell Abe. Julie, this…thing…it’s tearing you up inside. This baby…is part of Abe as well. He has a right…”
 
“I can’t…” Julie shook her head. “I just can’t…” Julie remembered the first night she and Abe had made love since losing the baby. Abe wouldn’t make love to her until she promised him she was ready to be with-child. At the time, she thought she was, but now…now being pregnant was the last thing she wanted, because as much as she wanted another baby, she didn’t want the fears and worries…the memories…that would go with her pregnancy.
 
***
The afternoon had passed rather slowly. Margaret had to leave early. She was meeting Ann in town to pick out some material for her wedding dress. Ann was getting married in December. This time, she had told Margaret, Hal wasn’t going to back out.
 
As she worked at the kitchen sink, Julie heard a horse approaching and lifted her hand to move the curtain back at the kitchen window. She saw Laura ride into the yard on Star Bright. Abe had restricted Laura from riding Star Bright after a series of lies she had told, and he had not lifted that restriction; so the fact that Laura had ridden the horse to school was disobedience.
 
Julie hurried toward the door and swung it open. Something inside her snapped as she rushed out onto the porch. “What are you doing riding your horse? I thought you were on restrictions!”
 
Laura was startled by Julie’s tone of voice. It was very rare that Julie raised her voice. It was even rarer that Julie would speak so angrily to her. Laura stood beside her horse and just looked up at Julie. Julie put her hands on her hips. “Well, answer me!”
 
“P…Peter told me I could today ‘cause I was so late for school! I…”
 
“You disobeyed your brother and me!” Julie snapped as she crossed her arms. “You just…go on to your room!”
 
“But Julie, I…” Julie pointed toward her room. Laura felt so hurt by Julie’s treatment. She busted into tears and ran to her room, giving the door a firm slam.
 
Julie paused in the doorway and looked toward Laura’s closed door. She could hear Laura’s muffled crying from the bedroom. Her heart broke, knowing her bad mood had caused her to lash out at Laura. Thinking on it now, she knew she was wrong, but Julie wasn’t sure how to fix it. She would have to leave it be for now.
 
Even the boys could sense something was terribly wrong with their mother as they sat on the floor playing with their toys. They tried to leave Ma alone for now, content with their toy horses and blocks.
 
While Julie was fixing supper an hour later, she heard another horse approaching the house. She lifted her head and looked out the window to see Abe. Julie closed her eyes, knowing she would have to keep her composure, less he ask questions she wasn’t ready to answer.
 
Abe walked inside. “Hi, honey,” he greeted her warmly as he unstrapped his gun belt and hung it safely on the peg.
 
“Hi.” Julie continued to cut up the vegetables for the stew. “Any luck?”
 
Abe hung his hat up. “Some,” he answered as he walked into the kitchen. Julie continued to peel her vegetables. Abe crossed his arms to one side. She hadn’t even looked at him. “Did I…do something wrong again?”
 
“No.” Julie answered with her face still down, concentrating on her task. “Why do you ask?”
 
There. He heard it. Her voice was sad. Something was wrong! But Abe merely shrugged. “Oh…I don’t know. You just usually greet me with a little more enthusiasm than this…especially when you haven’t seen me in two days.”
 
“I’m sorry.” Julie pressed a hand to her forehead, forcing her tears to stay back. “It’s just been a long day. The boys…” Julie swallowed. “They’ve been hard to manage today.”
 
“Oh.” Abe leaned on the counter. “Anything I can do?” Abe asked as he looked toward the boys and raised his eyebrows.
 
Charlie dropped his toy, jumped up, and to ran to his Pa, as if suddenly discovering he was there. “Papa! Papa!” Charlie cried as he jumped up and down for Abe to pick him up. Abe did so. “Papa, Charlie love ya!” Charlie gave him a wet kiss.
 
“And I love Charlie!” Abe declared.
 
Suddenly, the triplets jumped up and wrapped their arms around his legs. “Papa…Papa…” They all started crying.
 
“What’s this I hear about giving your Mama trouble?” Abe asked as he looked at his oldest son. “Does Papa need to hand out some spankings?”
 
Charlie’s eyes grew wide. “Oh no, Papa! No! Mama put me in th’ chair!”
 
“Oh?” Abe raised an eyebrow. “And what have I told ya about giving Mama a hard time when I’m not here? Huh?” Charlie started playing with his father’s beard, not wanting to answer. “Son?” Abe spoke firmly.
 
“Yes Papa?” Charlie asked as he stopped and rested his hands on his father’s cheeks.
 
“What did I tell you?”
 
Charlie lowered his head. “Charlie gets more trouble when Papa gets home.” Abe nodded.
 
“Abe…” Julie snapped as she looked up and stared out the window. “Just leave it be.” Her voice was laced with tension.
 
Abe sat Charlie down. “Why don’t you and the boys go on into your room.”
 
“But Papa…” Charlie started.
 
“And take your toys with you,” Abe said in a firm voice.
 
“Yes, Papa.” Abe watched the boys go into Charlie’s bedroom. He turned and walked back to Julie.
 
“Hey, what’s Star Bright doing hitched up outside?” he asked casually.
 
Julie looked up at him for the first time. “Your sister rode her to school today.”
 
“She did what?” Abe shook his head in disbelief. “But she can’t saddle a horse all by herself. Someone helped her.”
 
“Yes. It seems your brother gave her permission because…because…” Julie turned back toward the sink.
 
But Abe grabbed her arm and turned her back around to face him. “Because….?”
 
“I was late in getting up this morning. I was trying to rush around and Peter came and rescued me. Laura was going to be late for school, so I suppose he permitted her to ride the horse since it would be…faster.”
 
“Oh. Well, that makes sense.”
 
Julie sighed. “Yes. I’m afraid it does…now that I…” Julie sat down the vegetables in her hands and turned toward her husband. “Abe, I’m afraid I’m not in the best mood today.” Julie lifted her head to look into his eyes. “I’m afraid I was hard on her earlier. When I saw her on the horse, I…I yelled at her. I sent her to her room.”
 
“You yelled at her?” Abe put his hand under her chin to keep her eyes focused on him. “That’s not like you.”
 
“I know…” Julie sighed. “I’m sorry.”
 
Abe saw it in her eyes. There was something very wrong, but he could tell she wasn’t ready to open up to him. He lifted his head and looked toward Laura’s bedroom. He could hear muffled crying coming from there once again. She had probably been listening at the door.
 
Julie turned back to the sink. “Oh…I’d give anything to take it back, but…Could you…” Julie turned and silently pleaded.
 
Abe lowered his head and kissed her softly. “I will.” He smiled into her eyes until a tiny smile appeared on her face.
 
“Then…could you…go get cleaned up? You smell!” Julie declared.
 
Abe shook his head. He started for the door, then stopped and turned around.  “This is a first…Usually your apologizing for my shortcoming. Now…” Julie narrowed her eyes. “Oh…I mean…” Abe chuckled softly as he walked toward Laura’s bedroom. He turned. “I love you,” he said softly.
 
Julie couldn’t keep the smile from her face. “I love you, too.”
 
Abe softly knocked on Laura’s bedroom door. “Go away!” Laura cried.
 
Abe opened the door. “I can’t. I’m your Papa Abe.”
 
Laura lifted her head from her arms and looked up at him. “Oh. It’s you. Ya gonna spank me?”
 
“Spank you? Why?” Abe asked as he sat down on the bed and lifted her onto his lap.
 
“’Cause I broke the rule and rode my horse to school.”
 
“I can’t blame you for that. I was gone and Peter took the initiative to allow you to…Besides, I think you’ve earned our trust back enough to ride Star Bright again.” Laura leaned her head back against his chest. Abe wrapped his arms around her. “Sounds like Peter had a good reason for letting you ride the horse.”
 
“Julie’s so angry with me though.”
 
Abe kissed the top of her head. “No, honey. Julie’s had a really bad day. You see, when your day starts off bad, it usually stays that way all day.”
 
Abe lowered his head to look at Laura as she thought. “I know what you mean,” she said with a nod. “I remember one morning when you yelled at me first thing for doing something wrong. I seemed to do things wrong all day!”
 
“She’s sorry for the way she acted. You see, adults are people too. We make mistakes just like you kids do.” Laura nodded her understanding. “You know what? I think that if you took the kids out in the yard and played with them until supper, that would make her a lot happier.”
 
“What about my chores?” Laura asked.
 
“Well…” Abe wrinkled his brow. “I think just this once, it’ll be okay.”
 
Laura turned and hugged him tight. “I love you, Papa Abe!”
 
“And I love you, Mama Laura!” Abe teased her. Laura bent up and kissed his cheek. Then she stood up and waved her hand in the air across her face. “Abe, you stink! Julie will be mad if you come to the table smelling like that!”
 
“I was just about to go take a bath!” Abe declared with a chuckle. “And you don’t always smell like a bed or roses either, young lady!”
 
Laura laughed as they walked out together. Julie turned and looked at Laura. She bent down. “I’m sorry for how I behaved, Laura.”
 
Laura looked up at Abe who winked at her. “I know. Abe explained it to me.”
 
“Explained what?” Julie asked with a raised eyebrow.
 
“That you’re just a person too!”
 
Abe ran his hand under his nose as Laura gathered the boys up to get ready to go outside. Julie stood and kissed her husband. She hugged him. His arms felt like a nice, warm blanket on a cold morning as they tightened around her. She rested her head against his chest and listened to his heart beat for a few moments. “Thank you. And welcome home,” she mumbled against his chest.
 
Abe tightened his arms around her and held her tight against him. He could feel tension radiating from her. “You want to tell me what’s wrong?” Abe asked gently.
 
“Nothing,” Julie answered. After a few moments, she lifted her head from his chest. “I’ve needed this all day…just to rest in your arms for a few moments…”
 
“Have they been that bad, my love?” Abe asked softly as he lifted her face to peer into her eyes once again.
 
“No, Abe.” Julie released her hold on him and turned back toward the sink. “But you really do stink! Go take a bath.”
 
Abe stood behind her and peered down at her. He could sense her pain, but he didn’t know how to draw the truth from her. Without another word, he went into the bedroom to gather his fresh clothes. Then he went to the creek to take a bath.
 
***
 
Julie’s mood was no better at supper. She was quiet as she pushed her food back and forth on her plate. Abe and Laura engaged in light conversation, but the whole time, Abe watched his wife, concerned about what she was feeling. Something was wrong, and it was something she didn’t want to share with him.
 
Charlie and the boys began fussing as dinner went on. Charlie let his parents know that he did not like potato cakes they were having for supper, and Abe told Charlie to eat them anyhow. Charlie started to fuss, but there was something about Julie’s mood tonight that made even Charlie and the triplets remain quiet.
 
Finally, Abe couldn’t take Julie’s actions anymore. He picked up his coffee cup. “Aren’t you hungry?” he finally asked her.
 
Julie looked up. “Not really. I had a pretty rough day.”
 
“Papa Abe says that if you don’t finish your food, you have to go to bed…”
 
“Laura Rose!” Abe warned.
 
“Oh. But I guess it’s different with adults,” Laura mumbled. Abe turned back towards her and raised his eyebrows. Laura picked up her fork and started eating.
 
“Well…tomorrow’s Saturday. Let’s see now…what is tomorrow?” Abe asked cheerfully, trying to bring some life back into Julie.
 
“It’s October 10,” Julie mumbled.
 
Abe nodded. “I’m…uh…going to town tomorrow.” Abe reached out and took Julie’s hand. “Anything special I should pick up for you?”
 
“No.”
 
“But, it’s your…” Laura started, but she suddenly felt a kick under the table. Abe locked eyes with her and slightly shook his head.
 
“I think I’ll take Laura and Charlie to town with me tomorrow,” Abe announced then.
 
Laura let out a joyful shout. “Can I have candy? Huh? Can I?”
 
Julie lifted her eyes from the table. “I need Laura here. She has chores and…”
 
“Just for a couple hours, Julie. She hardly ever gets to go and…” Abe started
 
“But I need her here to look after the boys!” Julie suddenly snapped. Abe frowned at her words. Julie realized she had spoken out of line again. “I’m sorry.” She stood and started gathering up the plates to take to the sink.
 
Abe watched her worriedly. “Uh Laura…would you take the boys outside to play until bedtime?”
 
“Yes sir.” Abe helped the boys from their chairs and waited until they were all outside. Then he walked up behind Julie and slid his arms around her. He kissed her neck. “You want to talk about it?”
 
Julie tried to shove his hands away, but they remained firmly around her. “Talk about what?” she asked.
 
“About what’s bothering you.” Julie stayed quiet as she worked at scraping off the plates. Abe kissed her neck again. “I know something’s wrong, honey. I want you to tell me what.”
 
“Abe…” Julie paused in her task and closed her eyes. “I just had a really bad day.”
 
“That’s all?” Abe asked as he released her.
 
Julie nodded. “Yes. That’s all.”
 
Abe turned her to face him. Julie wouldn’t even look him in the eye. “Your eyes tell me differently, but I’ll leave it alone for now.” He went to gather up more dishes. Julie snapped at him, telling him she could clean up. “I know you can. But rather you like it or not, your husband is going to help you tonight since I sent Laura outside.”
 
Julie turned back to the sink and fiercely began scraping the dishes. In their six years of marriage, Abe had never seen his wife in quite a state. She was even snapping at the children, and that’s something she never did! Abe knew she was carrying a big worry, but she wasn’t ready to tell him.
 
Tomorrow was her birthday and their anniversary. Perhaps her mood would change once they gave her a surprise supper. Abe certainly hoped so!
 
When they finished the dishes, Julie wiped down the sink. “Abe, would you fetch some water so I can wash the diapers tonight?”
 
“Do you have to wash the diapers tonight?” Abe asked. “I sort of figured on joining our children out in the yard until it’s time to put them to bed.”
 
At the mention of children, Julie turned from him. “I’ve washing to do, Abe. I…”
 
Abe gently laid his hands on her shoulders. “Julie…” He turned her around to face him. “Something’s wrong, my sweet. Will you please talk to me?”
 
Julie shook her head. “I told you I…”
 
“…had a bad day. That’s a lie and you know it.”
 
“Let’s go play with the children.” Julie took off her apron and went toward the front door. Abe knew she was avoiding the confrontation at all costs. He still had hopes that things would be better tomorrow.
 
They played with the children for awhile. Julie went through the motions, but her heart wasn’t in it. The children knew that, and Abe could tell it upset them because something was wrong with Mama. Finally, Abe clapped his hands and announced it was bedtime for the boys. Laura went inside to help Julie get the boys ready for bed. After they were down, Laura asked Julie if she had to have another sewing lesson that evening. Julie had begun teaching Laura the task, and Laura was a very unwilling party in the lessons. It took firm words from Abe at times to get her to sit down like a young lady and pick up a needle and thread. Julie merely shook her head as she sat down in her chair and picked up her sewing. “You go on to bed.”
 
“Oh, but it’s…” Laura started. But when Julie snapped her head up and glared at Laura, Laura turned and hurried into the bedroom.
 
Not long after the bedroom door closed to Laura’s room did Julie feel the need to go out back again. She came out of the outhouse and leaned her head against the side. She put a hand to her mouth to muffle the sobs that escaped. When she felt confident she had her emotions under control, Julie made her way back inside.
 
As she walked inside, Abe came from Laura’s room. “Where were you?” Julie told him she had just gone out back as she walked back to sit down in her chair. “I told Laura she could read for awhile.” Abe sat down in the chair beside Julie and reached for her hand. “All the chores are done, so I thought I would come sit with you.”
 
“You’re always welcome.” Julie silently sewed on the shirt for a few moments. “When are you going to plant the winter wheat?”
 
“We’re almost done with the plowing. Oh!” Abe cleared his throat. “Did you know there’s another mill starting up in town? They are going to pay double the amount for all the wheat they can get!”
 
Julie paused. She lifted her head to look at Abe. “Double?”
 
“Yes. There’s a high demand for it, honey.” Abe sat back in his chair and closed his eyes as he smiled. “We’re doubling our wheat crop this year. Next year…we may triple it!”
 
“Sounds like you’ll be busy…” Julie mumbled.
 
“Mm hm…” Abe lifted his head up and looked at her. “Julie, you aren’t feeling poorly, are you?”
 
“Why would you say that?” Julie asked.
 
“You just look…pale. There’s no color in your face.”
 
“Maybe I’m losing my natural beauty,” Julie said, only half teasing.
 
“Hey…hey!” Abe stood up. “Alright. That’s it! We’re going for a walk!”
 
“Abe, I don’t feel…” Julie started as she stood up. The room started to spin, but Julie forced herself to overcome it before Abe noticed. “We can’t leave the children here…”
 
Abe smiled as he kissed her on the cheek. He walked over to Laura’s room and opened the door a crack. “Laura, Julie and I are going for a walk. You listen for the boys, ya hear?”
 
“Yes sir,” Julie heard Laura’s quiet voice answer.
 
Abe turned and nodded. “There…it’s all set!”
 
“What if Laura falls asleep?” Julie started, but Abe took her shawl from the hook and wrapped it snuggly around her.
 
They walked in silence as the moon rose higher in the sky. Abe put his arm around Julie’s shoulders as they walked along the creek. “You remember when we were courting? I used to bring you down here.”
 
Julie chuckled softly. “I remember your father watching from the doorway. He reminded you as we always left that I was a woman and you were to treat me with respect.”
 
“Yeah.” They grew silent. Abe stopped beside a tree and turned to her. He took both her hands in his and leaned in to kiss her. But there was tension in her kiss. He pulled away and peered into her eyes. “Your hair…” Abe reached up and took the pins from it. “It always looked beautiful in the moonlight.” Abe ran his fingers through it as he leaned in for another kiss.
 
But Julie quickly turned away. “I’m sorry…”
 
“Okay, what’s wrong?” Abe asked. Julie shook her head and shot a hand to her mouth. “Julie, talk to me!” Abe grabbed her shoulders and turned her around.
 
“I don’t know, Abe…” Julie lied. “I just…I’m over-emotional tonight I guess.” In truth, she had felt nausea suddenly sweep over her again, but it was gone now. She looked up into his eyes and smiled, trying to take his mind off her troubles. “Why are you in such a romantic mood tonight?”
 
Abe lifted his eyebrows as he studied her. He decided to go along with her. “There’s days that I just…look at you and wonder how…”
 
“The moonlight.” Julie looked up into the sky. “It’s a full moon tonight. Maybe that’s what it is.” Julie turned and leaned her back against his chest. Abe wrapped his arms around her. “I remember when we were courting the full moon doing strange things to you.”
 
“Mm…” Abe mumbled as he pressed his lips against her cheek. “Seems you warned me I best marry you before I get into trouble…” Abe smiled. “I remember how we used to walk all the time before Charlie was born. I…” He stopped when he suddenly felt her tense. “Julie, why won’t you talk to me?”
 
Julie turned and hugged him. “Just hold me, Abe…Oh, just hold me!” Julie cried against him. Abe tightened his arms around her protectively and held her close. He silently prayed that everything was okay. The way she was acting was scaring him.
 
In time, Julie parted from him and wiped her eyes. “We best get back…” They walked back in silence as they held hands. When they came inside, they went to each bedroom to check on their children. They kissed the triplets goodnight as they straightened their covers. Julie quietly walked into Charlie’s bedroom and kissed him. Abe stood in the doorway and smiled. Julie walked out and he closed the door softly.
 
Finally, they got to Laura’s room. Abe quietly opened the door. They found Laura asleep on the end of the bed with her tablet in hand. Abe bent over and took the tablet from her then picked her up and laid her down at the head of the bed. “I’m sorry…I tried to stay awake…” Laura mumbled as she turned and went back to sleep. Abe turned and looked at Julie who smiled.
 
After softly closing the door, Abe turned and took her arm. “Now that all my children are in bed and sound asleep, I think it’s time I put my wife to bed.”
 
Julie walked into the bedroom and dressed for bed. She was under the covers and laying on her side, facing the wall when Abe walked in. Abe undressed and slipped under the covers. He turned and took her in his arms. Softly, he ran his hand up and down her arm. Julie closed her eyes. Abe bent down and kissed her cheek. “Abe…I just want to go to sleep…please.”
 
Abe stopped kissing her cheek and looked down at her. He heard the sharpness in her tone and couldn’t help but feel hurt. “Alright. Goodnight.” He laid down, but kept his arms around her.
 
Julie finally broke the silence. “Abe…I’m sorry. I’m just so…” But she heard the steady breathing. She sighed. Sleep came so easily for him, but it took a long time before she finally fell asleep.
 
***
 
When Abe woke up the next morning, Julie was still asleep. He kissed her softly then slipped out of bed. “No…No!” he heard shouting from the bedroom.
 
Abe hurriedly put his pants on and hurried from the bedroom, closing the door quietly behind him. In two steps, he was in the triplets’ bedroom. “Hush now!” he warned in a quiet voice. “Your mother’s still sleeping and we don’t want to wake her!” Abe bent down on the floor. “What’s wrong?”
 
“My horsey!” David shouted as he pointed at Sammy.
 
Abe put his arm around David and clamped his hand over his mouth. “I said quietly!” Abe stood up. “I’m going to go check on your brother and Laura. You stay in here and be quiet!”
 
Abe opened Charlie’s room, but found Charlie still asleep. He then made his way to Laura’s bedroom. She answered his knock and he opened the door. “Oh good, you’re up!”
 
“We’re going to town!” Laura declared as she continued brushing her hair.
 
Abe chuckled. “I knew there was a good reason you got up this morning.” He walked into the bedroom. “Laura, Mama Julie had a bad day yesterday. I want her to sleep. Could you get the boys dressed and keep them quiet while I fix breakfast?”
 
Laura’s eyes grew wide. “You…fix breakfast, Papa Abe?”
 
Abe had picked up the milk bucket but slowly turned to look at his little sister. “Yes. I’ll fix breakfast! I’ll make…bacon and eggs…how hard could it be?”
 
Laura snickered as she put a hand to her mouth. “I could fix pancakes. Julie’s teaching me how.”
 
“Oh…uh…no…I’ll fix breakfast. You keep the boys entertained.” Laura nodded as she went to do his bidding.
 
Abe quickly went to do the morning chores. When he came back inside, he checked on the children. Laura was playing quietly with them on the floor. Abe went to the kitchen and got out the big skillet. He put grease in the bottom of it, then picked up an egg. He studied it and scratched his head. “Yeah…how hard could it be?”
 
***
Julie turned and groaned as the sun hit her face. She opened her eyes and stretched, but suddenly stopped when she felt a peculiar smell coming from the kitchen. She lifted her head from the pillow and took a bigger sniff just in case her nose was deceiving her, but it wasn’t. Something was definitely burning!
 
Julie threw the covers back and jumped from the bed, but the room spun around. She quickly grabbed the bedpost and steadied herself as she pusheded the hair behind her shoulders. Then slowly, she put a hand to her belly and took some deep breaths. “Ouch!” she heard Abe exclaim from the other room. Julie looked curiously toward the bedroom door, her hand reaching for her robe. She slowly walked over to the door as she slipped her robe on. The floor was cold against her bare feet, but she slowly continued to walk to the door. “Dab…blame!” she heard Abe exclaim then.
 
Julie opened the door. She leaned on the door jamb as she tightened her robe. “Abe?”
 
Abe turned from the sink where he had poured water from a bucket. Smoke appeared as something sizzled. “We need a pump in this house!” Abe muttered.
 
“Yes,” Julie nodded as she pushed herself off the door jamb and walked toward the kitchen. “I’ve been telling you that for six years. You keep saying you’ll get around to it.”
 
“And I will as soon as the wheat’s in the ground!”
 
Julie walked over to the sink and dared herself to look. She put a hand on her husband’s back as she leaned in. “Abe…” Julie shot a hand to her mouth and smiled. “What are you doing?”
 
“Well, I wanted you to sleep in because I figured you were tired from your hard day, so I thought…I’d fix breakfast.”
 
“Oh.” Julie folded her arms and lifted her eyebrows as she looked into his eyes. “That’s very sweet of you.” Abe rolled his eyes as he focused on her smile. “Abe…I’m sorry about…last night. I was just so…”
 
Abe shook his head as he lifted a hand to rest on her cheek. “No apologies needed, honey. We all have a bad day.” Abe bent down and kissed her. “But I AM hungry!”
 
“Why didn’t you ask Laura to cook? I’ve been teaching her how to make flapjacks and eggs and…”
 
“Because I thought I was choosing the lesser of the two evils.” Giggling erupted from the boys’ bedroom where all five children were playing. Abe turned around and looked at the door. “Now, I’m not so sure I did.”
 
Julie chuckled. “Well, if you’re done destroying my kitchen, you just move along and I’ll cook up a big batch of flapjacks.”
 
Abe smiled as he bent down to kiss her again. She wrapped her arms under his and drew them up on his back as he leaned in further for the kiss, his arms going around her. Their kiss deepened and Julie let out a small moan.
 
The door opened. “Abe, is it ready yet?”
 
Julie and Abe broke their embrace and turned to look at Laura who had her hands on her hips. Abe chuckled. “It will be if you’ll help me, Laura Rose!” Julie declared.
 
Abe entertained the children while Laura and Julie worked together to fix breakfast. After blessing, the family started eating. “So, do I still get to go into town with you, Papa Abe?” Laura asked.
 
Abe looked up at Julie, who merely nodded. “Yes. And…Julie will go down the hill and visit with Emily and Tiffany today.”
 
“Oh no! I’ve got lots of work…” Julie started.
 
“Everyone deserves a day off, Julie…” Abe declared as he help up a hand. “And you will take today as your Holiday.”
 
“No! I don’t…”
 
“It’s not open for discussion!” Abe announced sternly.
 
Julie stood from her seat and turned to hurry out the door. Abe jumped up and looked after her. He frowned when he saw her disappear into the outhouse. “Laura, is something wrong with Julie?” Abe asked as he continued to stare out the back window. He turned and looked at her. “Has she been sick?”
 
Laura shrugged. “All I know is that she was in a bad mood yesterday.”
 
“Did anything…happen while I was gone?”
 
“No,” Laura answered. “Julie gave me a sewing lesson and helped me with my homework Thursday night.” Laura lifted her head and looked at Abe. “Is something wrong?”
 
Abe scratched his beard when he saw Julie leave the outhouse and come back toward the house. “Oh…I guess not.”
 
Abe raised an eyebrow as Julie sat back down. “I’m sorry.” Julie smiled as she pushed her plate away. “The truth is…I’m not feeling well, Abe. I…”
 
“You sick?”
 
“Oh no…it’s not that. It’s just…I’m a bit under the weather is all.”
 
“Should you be in bed?” Abe asked worriedly then.
 
“Oh Abe, stop…stop fussing over me! I’m not a child!” Julie stood from the table and hurried into the bedroom. She closed the door hard as she began crying again.
 
“Abe, what’s wrong with her?” Laura asked. “She’s really happy then really sad. What makes her like that?”
 
Abe smiled, trying to ease the tension that had suddenly fallen over the room. “Oh…that’s something…”
 
Laura rolled her eyes. “…I’ll understand when I’m a woman!” Laura declared. She popped the last bite of pancake in her mouth and stood up. “I’m eight years old, you know! I’ll be a woman soon enough!” Laura declared with a nod.
 
“Not as soon as you think, but still too soon for me!” Abe declared with a matching nod. “Now, as soon as you get things cleaned up, we’ll go.”
 
“What about Mama Julie?”
 
Abe stood and lifted Charlie from the chair. “She’s going down the hill. I’ve got plans for her this afternoon.”
 
***
Abe chuckled as Charlie tried to join in on the songs he and Laura were singing as they drove the wagon towards the Gibbs’ ranch. He hadn’t gone to Julie right away after her retreat. Instead, he waited until they were ready to leave, and then told her to get in the wagon so she could go down the hill. Julie wanted to argue, but Abe was quite firm and demanding.
 
Abe put the break on the wagon and jumped down. “You and Charlie stay right here,” Abe ordered as he walked toward the Gibbs house.
 
Scott came out before Abe got up to the door. “I was just about to go check the cattle with Johnny,” Scott announced. “Care to join us?”
 
Abe laughed. “No thanks. I just came to see if Margaret would do me a favor.”
 
As if hearing her name, Margaret stepped from the house. “Hello Abe.” She shaded her eyes and waved to Laura and Charlie. “What’s the favor you have to ask me about?”
 
“Well…” Abe took his hat off and toyed with it in his hands. He turned and looked at Scoot. Scott smiled and hurried away to give them privacy. Abe took Margaret’s arm and led her away from the house. “I have a favor to ask you.”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Today’s Julie’s birthday and…she’s been really, really emotional since I got back last night. She’s yelling at the kids one minute, laughing the next minute, then bursting into tears another minute. It’s some sort of…woman thing I guess…”
 
Margaret bit her lip. “Go on.”
 
“Well, I wanted to surprise her with a birthday party and…” Abe blushed. “Tonight’s our anniversary as well so…”
 
“Oh.” Margaret smiled at his bashfulness. She folded her arms.
 
“Well…Emily and Tiffany are busy and I sent Julie down there for a spell…hoping they’ll cheer her up a bit…So I was wondering…”
 
Margaret giggled as she uncrossed her arms. “Is is really that painful for you to ask me to come over and bake a cake?” Abe lowered his head and blushed some more. “Honestly, you’re as proud as Luke!” Margaret smiled. “I’ll come and bake a cake. What kind?”
 
“Well, a woman likes chocolate, I reckon.”
 
Margaret nodded. “And what are you fixing her for supper?”
 
“Supper? Oh…” Abe rubbed his neck. “I don’t know…”
 
“How about some steaks? We’ve got plenty!”
 
“Oh no! I…” Abe started.
 
“Now, you do a lot for our family…especially since Pa…” Margaret shook her head. “And Luke and I know that you’ve been putting some money in his account because he never made $500. So you can’t say no!” Margaret smiled. “Besides, I know Julie’s been a bit…upset lately. I’ll go into town and…”
 
“You know what’s wrong with her?” Abe asked.
 
Margaret sighed. “Abe, don’t ask me anything. I’m a loyal friend who agreed to stay silent. But I will tell you that I think she should talk to you about this.”
 
“Alright.” Abe nodded. “I’m going into town now myself. Why don’t you ride along with us?”
 
“We’ll take Andy’s horse along. I’ll leave before she gets there.” Abe nodded. “Why time do you expect her back?”
 
“Two o’clock,” Abe answered.
 
“Oh!” Margaret exclaimed as she took her apron off. “Then I better hurry!”
 
***
 
Emily and Tiffany had been visited by Abe earlier that morning. He told them he would be sending Julie and the triplets down for the morning. He also asked them not to mention it being her birthday, nor the fact that it is her anniversary. As far as he could tell, she didn’t even remember that it was either. Abe also told them she is dealing with something, but he didn’t know what it was. He subtly asked them to try and find out what it was.
 
Tiffany and Emily were ready for Julie when she arrived with the children. The boys began screaming excitedly, which woke three month old Ruthie from her nap. When Julie heard the baby crying, her eyes filled with tears and she shot a hand to her mouth. Tiffany went to get her daughter while Emily sat Julie at the table. “Won’t you talk to us? Abe’s worried about you.”
 
Julie shook her head. “I…I guess that Em’s about ready to…” She stopped, unable to finish her statement.
 
“Oh…” Emily mumbled, thinking she understood the problem. “Yes. Her baby’s due at the beginning of November, I believe.” Julie nodded as she put her head in her hands and sobbed. Emily leaned forward and rubbed her hand along Julie’s shoulder blades to calm her. “Oh…honey…I’m sorry.”
 
Tiffany came from the room carrying Ruthie. Emily turned and shook her head, motioning for Tiffany to get the baby out of the room. “Julie…honey, I can’t tell you I know how you feel, because I don’t but…you seemed so happy these last few months. What…”
 
Julie shook her head as she wiped her eyes. “Please…I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t tell Abe I’m upset about the…the…”
 
“Mama…mama…up…up…” David cried as he held his hands up to his mother.
 
Julie bent over and picked David up. Adam grunted as well. Julie laughed as she put Adam on her other side of her lap. “The boys know I’ve been upset and they’re fussy. I know Abe’s worried about me and I’m sorry…but this is something I just have to…” Julie stopped when her voice broke.
 
Emily stood and turned to Tiffany. She quietly explained what the problem was. Tiffany nodded. “Well…since we have the whole morning to kill, why don’t we have some tea and girl talk?”
 
Emily smiled down at the boys. “And your Pa and uncles made a play room just for you kids! Why don’t you go on in there and play!” Emily walked toward the bedroom her parents used to share and opened the door. She stood in the doorway and smiled as her nephews toddled in. “It’s still hard to look at this room,” Emily whispered as she turned away.
 
“What does Laura say about the new play room?” Julie wondered.
 
“She won’t even look in that direction. She was pretty upset when she found out about it, as you remember. She wanted to live it up as a shrine for Ma and Pa but…” Emily shook her head. “Peter didn’t think that was a good idea. We all needed to move on. “
 
“Yes.” Julie nodded. “I remember how upset she was.”
 
“Friday morning when she was here, she just stared at the door, but she wouldn’t go near it…”
 
“Hey now wait a minute!” Tiffany declared as she came to the table. “We’re supposed to be making our sister feel better…not worse!”
 
“Where’s that baby of yours?” Julie asked suddenly. Tiffany and Emily looked at each other. “Nevermind. Bring her out!”
 
Emily and Tiffany made sure the rest of their visit was kept on a happier note. Julie still held a face of worry, but she tried not to let it show. They noticed Julie slowly stand up and grab hold of a chair a few times; and a couple times, Julie ran out, but they asked no questions.
 
Around lunch, Abe stopped by the main house. Peter had come in from working to eat lunch. “Abe, would you like something to eat?” Emily asked as three boys ran to their father.
 
“No. I’ve stuff to do at the house. I just came for these little rascals!” Abe declared.
 
“Oh…” Julie stood up too fast. She gasped and grabbed the edge of the chair, but tried to keep her dizzy spell from showing. She put a hand to her middle, trying to keep herself from getting sick. Once her stomach calmed, she said, “Abe, they can stay here…or I can come home. I…”
 
“No.” Abe lifted his hand. “I want you to stay here until two o’clock! I think you deserve a few hours on your own, so I’ll take the children.”
 
“How will you get any work done if…” Julie started.
 
“Julie, I’m taking care of it!” Abe declared. He walked up to her and kissed her. “Trust me.” He smiled into her eyes. “But you make sure to be home at two o’clock sharp!” Julie nodded and kissed him again.
 
“Oh please…I’m eating!” Peter declared suddenly.
 
Emily turned and shook her finger at her brother. “Oh, like I don’t have to watch you and Tiffany doing the same thing!” She turned back to Abe and Julie. “I just hope that someday I have what you all have.”
 
“Like Pa said…McCain’s make good…”
 
“Don’t you DARE finish that sentence, Peter McCain!” Tiffany declared. “I have some lye soap for you if you do!”
 
“Hey, Pa said it!” Peter argued.
 
“Yes.” Tiffany nodded. “So you’ve told me…but not when mixed company is around!”
 
Abe raised an eyebrow as he bent to kiss Julie one more time. “We’ll see you later.” He clapped his hands together. “Well, come on, boys!”
 
***
 
Margaret did the shopping for the things she would need to fix Julie’s surprise, then put Laura to work on baking the cake under her close supervision.
 
As Laura stirred the batter, she asked, “You think Mama Julie will like her present?”
 
“I know she will!” Margaret declared. “I hope I have one of those someday for my children.”
 
“You and Luke gonna have lots of children?” Laura asked.
 
Margaret paused as she turned to look at Laura. The way she said it was…touching. It sounded so right. “Well…I love children, Laura. And Luke loves children too.”
 
“Abe said Luke spoils children.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret smiled. “And I’m sure if we have children, ours will be spoiled too. But I want to teach them how to be ladies and gentlemen. I hope Luke will help me instill that in each of them.”
 
“You want lots of children, huh?”
 
Margaret smiled. “Laura, I’d be happy with ten.” She picked the batter up and poured it into the cake pan. “But if God sees fit to give us only one, then I’ll give him all the love I have.” Margaret turned and put the pan in the oven. “There…now let’s get supper started!”
 
***
“Alright boys, let’s go!’ Abe ordered as he sat one of them in the tub of water in their bedroom. “Let’s get you cleaned up for Ma’s party!”
 
“Abe, that’s not the way Julie does it!”Laura declared as she shook her head.
 
“Laura Rose, you just go on out of here! I think I know how to give baths!” Abe rolled up his sleeves and put the second boy into the tub. “Alright, come on you two rascals! Get in here!”
 
“Abe!” Laura shook her head. “That’s a bad idea!”
 
“Laura Rose, unless you want a swat on the backside, I suggest…”
 
“But Julie doesn’t put them all in there at the same time because…” Laura stopped when Abe shot her a dirty look. “Yes sir.” She hurried out into the kitchen where Margaret was busy working on supper. “Margaret, there’s trouble!” Laura declared. “Big trouble!”
 
“What is it, Laura?” Margaret asked as she wiped her brow with her apron.
 
“Abe…” Suddenly, Abe let out a loud cry. “You boys stop that right now!” Abe ordered.
 
Laura’s eyes grew wide. “Never mind. It’s too late now.”
 
“Laura, don’t tell me he…” Margaret stopped.
 
Laura smiled as she bobbed her head up and down. “Oh yes he did!” she declared with a laugh.
 
Margaret sat the spoon down. “Watch supper! Don’t let anything burn!” Margaret ran into the boys’ bedroom. As she did so, a great big splash of water hit her in the face. Margaret let out a gasp as water dripped from her face. She looked down at the floor. “Abe, putting four boys in the bathtub at the same time…”
 
“Yeah, so Laura tried to tell me!” Abe grumbled as he lifted David out and wrapped a towel around him.
 
“You go on and get a mop to clean this water up. I’ll get these boys washed properly and dressed!” Margaret declared.
 
Margaret giggled as Abe came in with the mop. “Planting corn…fighting the land to get crops to grow…birthing pigs and cows and…chopping wood…that’s a piece of cake compared to cooking and taking care of four boys and a girl…how does she do it?”
 
Margaret smiled. “It’s a woman’s way,” Margaret answered. “God gives us the gift.”
 
Abe turned and raised his eyebrows. She had two boys sitting quietly on the bed wrapped in towels and two in the tub. He watched in surprise as she gave all four of them baths with no trouble. “Margaret…you’ll make a great mother someday!”
 
“Thank you.” She blushed, thinking on the prospect of having a little boy someday that was just like his Pa…and his Pa, of course, was the rugged, wild, Lucas McCain!
 
***
 
Margaret hurried into the bedroom to get Charlie dressed. “Laura, why don’t you go take a bath and put on a pretty dress for Julie.”
 
“I don’t wanta take a bath!” Laura declared. “I don’t have to take one until…”
 
“Laura Rose…” Abe’s voice sounded from the doorway.
 
Laura turned and swallowed as she looked at him. “Yes Abe?”
 
“I believe Margaret told you to do something.”
 
“But Abe…”
 
Abe got down on one knee in front of her. “Don’t you want to make Julie really happy?” Laura nodded. “Alright then. Let’s get the water heated and in the tub so you can take a bath.” He turned and looked at Margaret. “I’ll go to the barn and get freshened up myself.”
 
An hour later, Laura was itching and moaning as she wore the dress Julie had just made for her. She didn’t much like wearing those new dresses, but she knew Abe wanted her to. “Now, you go to the window and watch for Julie,” Margaret ordered as she took off her apron. “Now Abe, everything’s ready and warming. All you have to do is put it on the plates. I have to go.”
 
No sooner had Margaret left did Laura shout, “Papa Abe, she’s coming! She’s coming! Mama Julie is coming!”
 
***
 
Julie had enjoyed her visit with Emily and Tiffany, even though it HAD been forced on her. She slowly walked back into the yard and was surprised to find things so peaceful. She slowly opened the gate and stepped into her yard. Then she paused at the front door and listened. Not a peep could be heard.
 
Julie opened the door to her house. “Surprise!” Abe and Laura shouted. Their voices were echoed by four little boys. Abe smiled as he held a chocolate cake in front of him. Two presents were on the table. Julie paused in confusion. “Well, for someone who just got a surprise birthday party, you sure don’t look to happy!”
 
“A birthday…” Julie threw her hands to her mouth. “Oh my! Abe, it’s my birthday! I forgot!”
 
Julie looked at her children. Her sons all had their hair comb and were dressed in their Sunday best. Laura stood scratching in the new dress Julie had just made for her. And Abe…Abe was in his jacket and crooked tie with his hair slicked down. “Why…” Julie put a hand to her chest as tears filled her eyes. “You are look so adorable!”
 
Abe sat down the cake on the table and smiled. “We have steaks and fried potatoes along with green beans and corn on the cob.”
 
Julie slowly walked up to her husband. She smiled through her tears as she straightened his tie. “There…” Tears fell from her eyes. “Oh…Abe…Thank you!” She threw her arms around him. “I can’t believe I forgot my 26th birthday!” She kissed him.
 
Abe returned her kiss. “That’s not all you forgot. This day is very special for another reason.” He smiled into her eyes.
 
Julie gasped again. “Oh! It’s our anniversary!”
 
Abe nodded. “We’ve been married for seven years.” He pulled out her chair. “Have a seat, my beautiful bride. We’ll serve supper.”
 
“Oh, but I should get dressed properly. I…”
 
“I think you’re beautiful just the way you are.” Abe turned and looked at their children. “Isn’t Ma beautiful, children?”
 
“Mama pretty!” Charlie declared.
 
“Mama pre-pre…” Adam repeated.
 
“Mama Julie, you ARE beautiful!” Laura declared then.
 
Julie smiled. “This is all wonderful, of course, but Abe, you can’t cook. You proved that this morning…”
 
“Oh. Margaret just left.” Abe sat the food on the table and sat down. “I thought that with your not…feeling well…and all that maybe you’d prefer just our family here tonight. I hope that’s okay.”
 
Julie nodded. But after prayer was said, Julie again just picked at her food. She felt horrible, knowing how dearly the meat cost her husband, that she couldn’t eat it. But just the sight and smell of food was enough to make her feel the urge to run to the outhouse. Abe eyed her worriedly. The fact that she still wasn’t eating much was a big concern for him. She looked pale and was extremely agitated about something.
 
She did manage to force down…and keep down…a few bites of her steak. She even managed to eat a small piece of chocolate cake and thanked Abe for the wonderful birthday dinner. Abe winked at Laura. “Now, would anyone like to open their presents?”
 
Julie smiled as she nodded. Laura gasped as she grabbed her present. “Open mine first, Mama Julie! Please!”
 
Julie smiled as she carefully unwrapped the package. When she slid the paper away, she put a hand to her mouth as tears fell from her eyes. “I made it myself. Emily and Tiffany helped me.”
 
Julie ran her hand across the cross-stitched material. It simply read, “My Mama Julie.” The stitches weren’t perfect, but to Julie, they were. “Oh…thank you!” Laura hurried around the table and hugged her.
 
Abe lifted his package. “And this is from all of us.”
 
“I helped Abe pick it out!” Laura declared proudly.
 
“Me too!” Charlie declared as he jumped up and down and clapped his hands.
 
Julie smiled as she began unwrapping the present. When the paper fell away and the contents revealed to her, she let out a small gasp. She ran her hand across the leather. The words “My family” were printed in gold across the front. Julie opened it and saw all the blank pages. “You put pictures in there and write your thoughts.” Abe pointed to the bottom of the pages. “See? You can even write about the pictures down at the bottom. You can put pictures we made of the boys and Laura in there…and all the other children we’ll have some day!”
 
Julie’s eyes filled with tears. Abe lost his smile when he saw the pain cross her face. Julie surprised everyone by springing up from the table. “Excuse me,” she whispered. Then she threw a hand to her mouth and ran out of the house.
 
“Julie?” Abe hurried to the front door. He saw his wife running toward the creek. Her skirt was lifted and her sobs were loud.
 
“Abe, what’s wrong?” Laura asked anxiously. “Didn’t she like the present?”
 
“I don’t know.” Abe turned toward Laura. “Laura, you run on down the hill and fetch Emily or Tiffany. Tell them I need them to watch you children for a spell.”
 
“But Abe, what’s wrong???” Laura asked as tears of worry filled her eyes.
 
“I don’t know, honey! Now go!” Laura hurried down the hill.
 
“Charlie want Mama!” Charlie cried as he walked over to Abe. “Mama uh-oh!”
 
Abe bent down and lifted his eldest son into his arms. “Yes. Mama’s uh-oh.” He walked out onto the porch and waited anxiously for Emily or Tiffany to come over the hill. The boys followed him outside, but Abe was too worried to think about their needing jackets.
 
Finally, Emily hurried over the hill. Her skirt was lifted and she hurried toward the fence as fast as she could.
 
“Abe? What’s wrong? What is it?” Emily asked.
 
“It’s Julie. I don’t know!” Abe handed her Charlie then grabbed his hat. “I have to go to her!”
 
“Abe!” Emily grabbed his arm. “Abe…” Emily swallowed. “Today at the house…Julie was really upset. I think it has to do with the baby.”
 
“The baby?”
 
Emily nodded. “Em’s giving birth at the turn of the month, remember?”
 
Abe closed his eyes. He turned and looked in the direction Julie had disappeared in. “I should’ve realized…” Abe bent down and lifted Sammy, who had clung to his leg. He kissed his son, then sat him down. “Papa’s gotta go, son. I’ll be back.”
 
Abe hurried out the door. “Come on, boys. Get inside before you catch your death of cold!” Emily ordered as Abe ran off to find Julie.
 
***
 
He paused a few steps behind where she was sitting. Slowly, he approached her. Without saying a word, he sat down beside her. “What’s wrong?” he finally asked in a quiet voice.
 
“Nothing!” Julie answered in a voice that told him the opposite.
 
“Talk to me.”
 
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Julie answered as she wiped at her eyes.
 
“Oh. Well, that’s too bad!” Abe declared. “Because I want to know what’s bothering you! And I want to know right now.”
 
“I told you nothing!” Julie stated more firmly this time.
 
“You’re lying to me, Julie!” Abe gently grabbed her arm and turned her around. “I want to know what’s bothering you, and I want to know now!” He stated again, but this time more firmly.
 
“Can’t you…just let me deal with this myself?”
 
“No. You’ve been bothered about something ever since I came back last night. Peter told me today that you weren’t feeling well yesterday morning.” Abe paused. Julie lowered her head. “We’re not leaving here until you tell me what it is!”
 
“You wouldn’t understand!” Julie cried.
 
“Try me.”
 
Julie lifted her face to his. She suddenly burst into tears. Abe wrapped his arms around her as she sobbed. “Julie…oh Julie…” He kissed her cheek. “Talk to me. Tell me what’s gotten you so upset.”
 
Julie laid her head against his chest. “My cycle’s late and I woke up yesterday feeling really dizzy…I’ve been dizzy ever since. And I can’t seem to keep any food down and…”
 
Abe suddenly lifted her head to stare at her. “How late?”
 
“A couple weeks,” Julie answered. “I’m NEVER late unless…”
 
“Are you saying you’re…PREGNANT?” Abe asked as relief flooded his face.
 
“Yes,” Julie whispered. She began sobbing.
 
“Honey…why are you so upset?”
 
“I can’t go through that again, Abe!” Julie cried. “I can’t bare that pain I went through. I can’t stand that loss! I…” Julie choked on her words as she cried even harder.
 
“Ohhhhh!” Abe felt pain enter his heart as he realized what she was so upset about. “Julie, miscarriages can happen to anyone!” He took her face in her hands. “Honey, nothing’s going to happen this time!”
 
“You don’t know that!” Julie shook her head. “You don’t know…”
 
“No. Only God knows, but…there’s no reason for you to think that…”
 
“Abe, I wasn’t sick at all with Charlie or the triplets. But when I was pregnant the last time I…”
 
Abe stood up. He pulled Julie up to stand in front of him. “That doesn’t mean anything, and you know it!”
 
“Oh, but it does!” Julie cried as tears fell down her cheeks. “My stomach is hurting right now! I feel pain and I…”
 
“I think your worry is making you sick. THAT can’t be good for our unborn child.” Abe took her hand and started back toward the house. “We’re going to the doctor.”
 
“No!” Julie pressed her feet in the ground, refusing to walk. “I can’t!”
 
“Julie, if you’re worried, you need to see the doctor!”
 
“No! After what he said last time, I…” Julie shook her head.
 
“Now listen to me, Julie McCain! You can either go to the doctor willingly, or I’ll pick you up and carry you!” Abe started toward the house. “I reckon this puts a damper on my plans tonight.” He stopped and turned toward her. “I was hoping we’d celebrate our anniversary…alone!”
 
“Not if I’m pregnant!” Julie declared. “Maybe our being intimate caused…”
 
“NO!” Abe shook his head. “We were intimate with the other two pregnancies and nothing happened.” Abe shook his head again. “Now, let’s go!”
 
Julie obediently followed Abe toward the house. Abe announced to Emily that he was taking Julie into town. As Julie waited for Abe to hitch up the team, she thanked him. Abe paused in his hitching the horses. “For what?”
 
“Not telling Emily.” Abe nodded.
 
Their ride into town was quiet. Abe couldn’t find anything to say that would encourage her. He drove straight toward the doctor’s office, then told Julie to wait on the wagon seat while he went and got the doctor from his living quarters. Julie was nervous as she followed the doctor into the examining room. He started to close the door on Abe, but Abe announced he wanted to be there. Julie nodded and held out her hand to Abe.
 
Abe sat in the chair and watched in bemusement as the doctor examined Julie. He had no idea how ‘personal’ a woman’s exam got and he was a bit taken back. Dr. Stevens merely chuckled. When he was done with his exam, he told Julie to get dressed. He washed his hands and stayed quiet until Julie stepped out from behind the partition. “Well?”
 
“You’re pregnant.” Julie lowered her head. She felt her eyes fill with tears. “Well…you usually have a smile when I tell you that.”
 
Abe cleared his throat. “She’s afraid, doctor…after last time.”
 
“I’m feeling pain,” Julie declared. “In my stomach. And I’m so sick and…”
 
“Have you been really anxious about this?” Dr. Stevens asked. Julie nodded. “Anxiety causes all sorts of physical effects. Rest assured, Julie, that you are in perfect health…aside from being a little malnourished.”
 
“I can’t eat. I’m so sick! I’m so dizzy all the time and the nausea is constant…just the smell…the sight of food…” Julie shook her head. “I didn’t have morning sickness with Charlie or the triplets. But I did with…” Again, Julie choked on her words.
 
“Julie, every pregnancy is different. Just because you don’t feel ill with one doesn’t mean they’ll all be as simple.”
 
“I’m just so afraid…” Julie started.
 
“Don’t be.” Dr. Stevens sat down and motioned for her to sit as well. Then he took Julie’s hand in his. “It’s perfectly normal for a woman in your condition to be anxious after having a miscarriage, but being anxious and overly upset is bad for the baby, as I think you well know. Being as upset and anxious as you have been can cause the tummy aches. I’m sure you know that as well from your own children.”
 
Julie nodded. Abe bent down behind her and put his hand on her shoulder. “Should she take it easy, doctor?”
 
“I would. I think it would ease her conscience some if she rested during this pregnancy.” Dr. Stevens smiled. “Everything’s going to be fine, I’m sure.”
 
Julie bit her lip and nodded. “Can we do something about her sickness?”
 
“I’m going to request a shipment of lemons to be freighted in here as soon as possible. We’ll keep them cool in the ice house. Just taking a sniff of the lemon will ease your nausea. Also, finding watering fruits and vegetables can help you considerably. Eat strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon…” Dr. Stevens paused. “Oh yes. We have a shortage of those this year.” He scratched his head. “Well…eat toasted bread. Eat six small meals a day instead of three large meals. Also, ginger…put some in water and drink it. It can soothe your stomach.” Dr. Stevens patted her hand. “It’s important that you eat. The baby needs the nutrition.”
 
“Perhaps we could get her some fresh fruits and vegetables…” Abe started.
 
“No.” Dr. Stevens shook his head. “Seems that when we have a hard year, there are more pregnancies.” He grinned. “I’ve already tried to find some sources and unfortunately it’s been hard everywhere. If the grasshoppers didn’t get them, the drought or floods did. We’ll just have to do the best we can with what we have.”
 
“Dr. Stevens, there’s one more question.” Abe looked down at his wife as he squeezed her shoulder. “Julie seems to think that…being intimate…may have…”
 
“No.” Dr. Stevens chuckled. “You can continue being intimate. It doesn’t have any effect on the baby, I assure you.”
 
Julie blushed as she lowered her head. Dr. Stevens looked at Julie. “Do you have any more questions for me? I want you to leave here feeling relieved.”
 
Julie looked up at Abe and smiled. “No, doctor.” She stood up, but reached out and grabbed the chair as the room spun. “I think time will help me.”
 
“And I’ll take good care of her!” Abe declared as he put an arm around her to steady her.
 
“The morning sickness shouldn’t stay too long,” Dr. Stevens stated. “Some doctors believe that morning sickness is nature’s way of getting rid of bad stuff that could hurt the unborn child.”
 
“Then why, doctor, didn’t I feel it with the others?”
 
Dr. Stevens shrugged. “Only God holds that answer, Julie.”
 
Abe shook his hand. “Thank you. You are a miracle worker!”
 
Abe helped Julie up onto the wagon seat. As they started for home, Julie cleared her throat. “I owe you an apology.”
 
“No you don’t,” Abe answered from beside her.
 
“Oh, but I do!” Julie put her arm through his. “Remember when Luke was here and we made love for the first time since the…miscarriage?” Abe nodded. “I told you I was ready to get pregnant, were that to happen but…”
 
“You had no way of knowing you’d react this way.” Abe smiled. “I still remember that night, and I’m glad you didn’t know because to tell you the truth…”
 
Julie chuckled softly. “Can we keep this just between us? Margaret knows but…I don’t want anyone else to know…Not right now.”
 
“Alright.” Abe nodded. “And I’m a bit anxious too. So perhaps we could see if Margaret can stay with us for a few months…just until we feel better?”
 
“Oh, but then everyone will know!” Julie declared. “No. I’m not ready for that, Abe! Please…”
 
“Julie, you want to take it easy.”
 
“I know! But…”
 
“Alright…” Abe held up a hand. “We’ll manage. I don’t want you doing any housework. You leave that to Margaret in the afternoons. We’ll also give Laura more responsibilities. I’ll think of something to tell her.”
 
Julie rested her head on Abe’s shoulder. “Thank you, Abe.” She closed her eyes, feeling more confident. “I love you.”
 
“You better! You’re carrying my child!” Abe declared.
 
When they got back to the house, Emily was busy gathering things up to take the children with her. “What’s going on?” Julie asked.
 
“They’re coming down to the house tonight. Tiffany just left here with two of the boys. Peter said it’s okay if all five children came and stayed there.”
 
“Oh no! It’s too much!” Julie argued.
 
“No arguments!” Emily declared. “This is your anniversary.” Emily turned to Laura. “Well, come on, Laura Rose!”
 
Abe stood behind Julie and wrapped his arms around her. “Laura, you be good now!” he ordered. Laura nodded. “You too, Charlie!”
 
Emily closed the door behind her. Abe kissed the top of Julie’s head. “Well…now what?”
 
“Abe…” Julie turned and put a hand on his chest. “I know the doctor said it was okay to…but do you mind if we…”
 
Abe smiled as he bent his head down and kissed her. “To tell you the truth, Julie, I was thinking the same thing. As long as you promise to make it up to me.”
 
“Oh, I intend to.” The couple undressed and got into bed. They kissed, cuddled and caressed each other for a long time before they finally lay still in each other’s arms. “I love you,” Abe breathed in her ear.
 
Julie smiled. “I love you too.” She cuddled closer to him. “Happy Anniversary.”
 
But Abe was already asleep.

The Years Before — Measles

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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