Back by popular demand, this six-chapter story is a fan favorite. I’ve compiled it into three parts since it’s a “December kind of story.” Reposted from 2018 for a whole new audience. Enjoy! Read more journal entries in Andi’s Attic >>
Andi’s Journal, December 1887. This is my first Christmas with our new baby, Jared. Because of my foolish wish, I thought it might be my last, but God is good. He spared my life.
It was the first Saturday in December, and Andi Carter Prescott was worn out. It was late. Riley was still not home from mending fences over at the Circle C. Jared had done nothing but whine all day, and the house was a mess.
It didn’t help any that Andi’s mind had spent the day drifting. She knew Mitch and Chad, her two older brothers, were in the snowy Sierras, finding trees, chattering like magpies, and having a terrific time. While I’m stuck here all day with chores and a fussy baby who refuses to nap, even when he’s tired, Andi grumbled silently. She clenched her fists. It’s not fair!
She knew, she really and truly knew, that she had no right to be upset. Jared was her baby, a sweet blessing, a valuable jewel, even when he screamed his head off. Owning a house and having floors, dishes, and windows to wash were gifts, whether she realized it or not. From every angle she looked at it, Andi was blessed beyond measure.Yet, at four o’clock—a dark four o’clock this time of year—Andi was too frustrated and weary to care.
“I wish Riley would hurry up and come on home,” she fumed. “His supper is getting cold, and it’s his turn with Jared.” The baby had finally fallen asleep and lay in his cradle, heedless of his mama’s case of the grumps. With the blanket drawn over him, he was the perfect picture of contentment.“ I sure wish I were you,” Andi told him. She sighed and slumped. “Now that you’re asleep, I have to finish my cleaning.”
Jared did nothing more than stir slightly, his eyes glued shut. Andi couldn’t help it. She smiled. “You’re a beautiful baby, you know that, Jared? If only you wouldn’t scrunch up your face and cry so much.” His fist jerked.“ Yeah, you heard me.” Andi stooped and kissed his wisps of fuzzy, blond hair. “Thanks for making Mama smile.”
“Andi!” She jumped. What in the world? A rattling sound followed the shout. A wagon! Hurrah! They’re here! Andi leaped to her feet, threw on her sweater, and hurried outside.
“Chad! Mitch!” she exclaimed. “Good trip?”
Chad nodded and swung down from the wagon’s high spring seat. “Sure was.” He grinned at his sister. “We found four beautiful red firs.” He jerked his thumb. “Look in the wagon bed. You get first choice.”
Andi didn’t need to be told twice. She bounded to the back of the wagon and peered inside. She gasped. “Oh, Chad.”
“I do believe this is the best batch of trees we’ve ever seen,” Mitch remarked. He slapped his hand on the trunk of one thick red fir. “Which one do you want, Sis?”
“Oh, I don’t know. That’s a difficult choice.”
“Well, choose quick,” Chad urged. “I’m starved half to death. With Mother staying in town with Melinda, Ellie and Luisa were responsible for our grub. They hardly packed enough to keep a bird alive.”
“Give me a moment, will you, Chad?” Andi returned. She bit her lip and contemplated her choices. “There’re all lovely, but I think the top one to the right is the best.”
“Good choice.” Mitch grinned. “We’ll take it on inside for you.”
The sight of a gorgeous tree for her sitting room had done quick work of curing Andi of her sour mood. Beaming, she followed her brothers inside. They set up the tree in a nice place in the sitting room. “How’s that?” Mitch asked.
“It’s perfect.” Andi clasped her hands. “Thank you!”
They both nodded. “No problem,” Chad said. “Now, we’d best be off. See you, Andi.”
“See you.” As Chad turned, Andi reached out and caught hold of his shoulder. “Oh, and Chad?”
“Riley should’ve been here an hour ago. When you get back to the ranch, could you please send that boy on home?”
Chad smiled and ruffled her hair. “Sure thing. ”With that, Chad and Mitch made their departure. After watching them go, Andi peeked at Jared. For a wonder, he was still asleep. Good. Now . . . She bit her lip and glanced around the cluttered room. Then she made a decision. I can clean later. I want to decorate the tree!
Andi pulled out her boxes of tree decorations. Mother had brought her some ornaments a few days ago, and Andi been busy stringing popcorn and cranberries. “This is gonna be the prettiest tree this side of the Sierras, just like Mitch said,” Andi told herself. With a smile, she pulled out a delicate glass ornament and fastened on a hook. Then she surveyed her many choices of thick, bushy branches and picked her favorite one.
Just as she began to hang the ornament, the branches shook. Andi jumped back, startled. Her ornament fell to the ground and shattered, but she hardly noticed. Her eyes were on the tree. What on earth? More rustling and shaking. Then a dark form began to make its way down the trunk.
A racoon! Andi stared wide-eyed at the small creature. He had now reached the floor and stood on all fours, staring up at her. “Where…where did you come from?” Ever since last May, after the rabid-racoon incident in the middle of the night, Andi had avoided raccoons like the plague. One never knew if a raccoon was harboring the deadly hydrophobia disease. She relaxed. This young raccoon didn’t look scary in the least. Nor did he appear to be harboring rabies. His huge eyes stared up at her, as if in an effort to plead for help.
“Pobrecito,” she murmured in Spanish. “Poor little thing.” Andi lowered herself beside the raccoon kit and stroked his back. The raccoon didn’t flinch or move away. It stayed still, trembling. It couldn’t have been more than six months old. Not quite ready to leave his mama. “Did the boys bring you home? Away from your mama and brothers and sisters?”
Andi didn’t know what to do with it. The kit really was a baby, lost and alone and without his mother’s protection. She couldn’t just release it outside. It would die for sure. At the same time, memories crashed into her mind. Memories of living on the Circle C, having to let go of each animal she brought home as a potential pet. A raccoon had once been one of those pets. Riley is definitely different than Chad, though, she thought. Riley loves animals, each and every kind. He wanted me to keep my bunnies, and he finally relented to letting me keep Jasper last summer. I think he’d be all right with caring for a little racoon. I’ll just keep him in the barn.
Andi made up her mind. Yep, little raccoon, meet your new mama.
When Andi made up her mind about her something, she worked fast. Within ten minutes of finding her new pet, she was hauling him out to the barn—an empty stall worked well—and bringing him a bowl of warm milk. “There you go,” she crooned, watching the raccoon slurp it up with his small pink tongue. “You’re a handsome little fella, you know that?”
“Andi? Is that you?”
“Riley?” Andi stood and leaned out of the stall’s half-door. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Riley smiled and led Dakota toward his stall. “What’re you doing out here?”
Andi opened the door and stepped into the aisle. “Chad and Mitch brought us a tree,” she said. “But it wasn’t until we had the tree set up in the sitting room that I realized I had a visitor—a furry visitor.”
Riley looked up, puzzled. “Huh?”
“Come and see.”
Riley, still leading Dakota, walked over. He peered into the stall, and his eyes widened. “A raccoon?”
“Yep. Isn’t he the cutest little thing?” Andi grinned. “He’s just a baby. I figured I could care for him—for a little while,” she added quickly, seeing a look of hesitance come over Riley’s face. “Just ’til he’s old enough to live on his own. Please, Riley?”
“I dunno, Andi.” Riley scratched his chin. “You’ve got enough work as it is. We have Jared now, plus the housework. You sure you can handle it?”
“Sure, I’m sure.” The little creature had already wormed its way into Andi’s heart. I have to care for it! I just have to!
Riley slipped an arm around her. “If you’re sure you can take it on, then I have no objection. But only until this thing is ready to be released.” He squeezed her gently. “Don’t want you to get too tuckered out.”
“Thanks.” Andi leaned her head on Riley’s shoulder. The barn was warm, and suddenly her drowsiness was overwhelming. She yawned. “Well, c’mon, Mother,” Riley teased gently. “Let’s head on up to the house. You look done in.”
Andi shook her head and attempted to respond, but another yawn overtook her.
Riley laughed. “Go on inside. I’ll be up as soon as I’ve settled Dakota in his stall.”
Andi pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and left. Halfway to the house, she could feel herself sag with grogginess. Boy, I sure am tired. She swept a hand across her eyes. Can’t wait to climb into bed.
Woof! Woof! “Tucker!” Andi called. The dog bounded towards her, barking. Yet, when he reached her, he didn’t stop. He kept running. Why is he headed for the barn? Andi thought. Suddenly, she gasped. What if he smells my raccoon? I didn’t shut the stall door—“Tucker, no!” Andi picked up her skirts and bolted. “Tucker!”
She entered the barn, panting, in time to see Riley firmly shut the raccoon’s stall. Then he reached down and grabbed Tucker. “Whoa, there.”
Whew. And leaned against the barn’s double doors and fought to catch her breath. From inside her pet’s stall, she could hear wild scampering. Tucker’s barking must’ve scared him. She breathed in another gulp of air. Her lungs burned. The evening’s damp air and frantic running had doubled her achy, groggy feeling.“
Andi, you all right?” Riley asked.“
“Why’d you run to the barn like that?” He wrapped a steady arm around her and led her from the barn. “Slow down; catch your breath.”
“I was scared that pup would get to my raccoon,” Andi panted.
“For sure, he’s not too keen on your pet,” Riley agreed, looking down at Tucker. The dog was trotting alongside them, growling deep in his throat. “But if I keep watch over him, and you keep the kit’s stall door closed, there shouldn’t be much problem.”
Andi nodded. She drew another deep breath and swallowed hard.
“You all right?” Riley asked again.
“I’m fine. But promise me something.”
“If we walk into the house and Jared is wailing, promise me you’ll take care of him. I’m going to bed.”
A smile tugged at Riley’s lips. “Promise.”
Gingerbread, named after a favorite Christmas treat, rose up to his hind legs. His two front paws reached up. “Good boy.” Andi handed the egg over. She watched with a pleased grin as Gingerbread lowered the egg to his lips and started chewing.
“Andi! You comin’? We have to leave!”
“Yeah, Riley!” Andi patted Gingerbread’s head. “I’ll be back soon. Behave yourself.” She left the stall and in her haste, without paying much attention to what she was doing, shut the bottom half-door. When Andi reached the house, Riley had the buggy hitched up.
“I’ll be right back,” Andi told her husband. She flew up the porch steps and into the house. A quick wash at the pump and a glance in the mirror, then back outside she went.
“You finally ready?” Riley asked, grinning.
“Yep.” Andi settled into the buggy and took Jared from her husband. “Let’s go.”
Riley swung up next to her and clucked to Ranger. “How’s Gingerbread this morning?”
“Right as rain. He’s getting really good at his ‘begging’ trick, too.”
Riley chuckled and jiggled Ranger’s reins. “I’ll have to remember to refresh that creature’s water dish when we get back from church,” Andi went on. “He drinks like crazy.”
“Speaking of gingerbread…” Riley sent her a sly grin. “You making any this season?”
“You bet. In fact, I made a pan of it just last night. I meant to tell you to have some for breakfast, but I forgot. You can have a chunk with lunch.”
“Fine with me. Now, we’d best get a move-on, or we’ll be late for church.”