For more Andi’s Journal, go to Andi’s Attic >>
Early May, 1890
“Do you never stop running?” I groaned and scooped up my little son, nestling his small body against my swollen belly. The sudden motion and added weight caused my feet to stagger a little, but I drew a breath and focused on staying upright.
“Just two more months to go. You can do this,” I remembered Riley’s encouraging words from the day before.
I shifted Jared to a more comfortable position in my arms and shook my head. Easy for Riley to say. He’s never been a mother to a rambunctious toddler or tried carrying around a growing baby every minute of the livelong day. Baby Prescott must’ve sensed my grumpiness and the selfish words simmering just below the surface. Either that, or he was as objectionable as I to Jared pressing down upon his personal space. He chose that moment to aim a sharp kick against the inside of my belly. Ouch. I winced and felt the air whoosh from my lungs. Sorry, sweet little one. Mama will have to be more careful in the future.
Jared wriggled, and my hold on him relaxed. He beamed up at me. “Mama! Horsey!”
“We can’t go see the horseys now, little man,” I told him. “Mama needs to finish making supper, and you have to pick up all the toys you left lying around the sitting room before Daddy comes home.”
“No, Mama. Horsey!” Jared lifted a chubby finger, and I followed his gaze.
My eyes narrowed at the sight of a familiar appaloosa and his rider loping towards us. Riley? What was he doing home so early? Supper wasn’t even near to–
I started, nearly dropping Jared. Oh no! My stew! Slipping the heavy toddler to the ground and leaving him behind to greet his daddy, I bounded—well, lumbered—up the porch steps and into the house. The smell of something burning assaulted my nostrils almost immediately. I looked around for a dishtowel to pull the hot, simmering pot off the stovetop. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” I muttered absently. How could I have forgotten about the stew?
Well, let’s see. I was tired, my head hurt, and Jared had disappeared without a trace several moments before. I’d forgotten to latch the back door after bringing in the clean laundry, and Jared, taking advantage of my carelessness, had wandered out to the yard to explore. Can’t I do anything right? Right now, apparently not.
Gritting my teeth to hold back a groan, I wrapped a dishtowel around the pot handle and moved it to the sink. The liquid bubbled, chunks of meat and potatoes swirling. Large clouds of thick, greyish-white steam gushed forth into my face. My eyes watered. I grabbed a spoon and poked at the mess. The surface of the stew was only half-cooked. I scooped it into a big bowl to peer at the bottom of the pan. What remained was completely scorched and black. Ugh! I sighed. And this is usually my no-fail meal.
A heavy sigh escaped as I raked a hand through my hair. Short, sweaty tendrils slipped between my fingers, curling around my knuckles. I still had the ingredients out for the pan of biscuits I’d planned to fix, but that seemed useless now. My hands clenched around the tabletop. Another meal gone wrong. What would Riley say?
The answer wasn’t long in coming. The screen door opened and shut with a resounding slam as Riley came in, Jared on one hip. His grin disappeared the moment his eyes caught on my face. “What’s wrong?”
Can’t you smell it? I wanted to retort but stubbornly stamped down on my irritation and mumbled, “I burnt the stew.”
“Well, no matter.” Riley’s easy smile returned as he hugged me. “I’d hoped to come home early enough that you wouldn’t have even started on supper, but ranch work detained me longer than planned.”
“You never said a word to me about coming home early today.” I stepped back and cocked an eyebrow at my husband. “What’re you up to?”
He shrugged, a twinkle in his dark-hazel eyes. “You’ve been working much too hard recently, my princess. I think that today I should take care of the evening meal and get you out of the house. How about a picnic by the creek?”
No cooking. Fresh air. For one second, I felt my eyes light up. Then I slumped. “I don’t like taking Jared down by the creek this time of year. There’s too much water, and he can’t swim. I worry about him falling in.”
“Ah, but that’s the second part of my surprise,” Riley answered. “I think it’s time for Jared to have his first swimming lesson.”
My mouth dropped open as shock rolled over me in waves. I couldn’t help it. Jared . . . swimming? I shook my head. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
“Why not? He’s almost three years old, and the younger they start, the better.” Riley’s mouth twitched. “I didn’t see you objecting too, too much with the pony last July. You could see as easily as I that Jared is growing fast and—”
“Th-that was different,” I stammered, untying my tongue long enough to interrupt this lunacy. “A tumble off a horse isn’t . . .” My voice trailed off, and I choked. “Well, he could drown trying to swim.”
A certain nightmarish memory bombarded my senses, sending icy tingles of dread dancing up and down both arms. I pinched my eyes shut in an effort to hold it back, but it was too late. The image came rushing at me in horrific detail. My body being swept downstream faster than I’d ever thought possible. I was choking. Flailing. Dirty-brown water filling my mouth, my ears, my nose. Then I was jerked to shore and left there, gasping. Worse? It happened just upstream on this very same Memory Creek. Only it wasn’t called Memory Creek in those days.
A cold, hard lump grew in my belly as I remembered that long-ago day at the hands of my brother-in-law, Troy Swanson. Even ten years later, the experience remained fresh in my mind.
Creeks and lakes and rivers had always been good for one thing, and one thing only: fishing. Maybe soaking my feet. But not swimming. The thought of throwing my baby into its cold grasp made my heart want to fly right out of my chest. However, one look into Riley’s eyes, and I knew I was fighting a losing battle. My shoulders slumped as reality crashed in. Perhaps my husband was right. Maybe teaching Jared how to swim now would save him from a world of terror later on. “All right. But please promise me you’ll be careful.”
Riley gave me a snappy salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
Part 2 next Monday