softly at sunrise-Page 5


“I apologize for calling you on a Saturday, but I have a situation with one of my teachers. Mrs. Ashton was in a car accident last night.”

“Oh, I hope she’s all right.”

“She’ll make a full recovery. But she’s going to be out for several weeks, and I’m scrambling to try and fill her position. I wondered if you’d be interested in taking over her class while she’s on leave.”

Rachel’s eyes widened. “Yes, yes, of course I would.”

She could see Ethan’s eyebrows go up in question from across the bar, and she held up one finger to signal that she’d let him know momentarily.

“That’s wonderful. We appreciate your willingness to step in. If you’d like to come in a little early on Monday, one of the other teachers will brief you on where the children are.”

“That’s fine. I’ll be there.”

“Okay then, I’ll see you on Monday, and again, thank you.”

“No problem. I’ll see you then.”

She ended the call and then stared up at Ethan, excitement dancing up her spine.

“One of the other teachers is going to be out for a few weeks, and they want me to fill in.”

Ethan was silent for a moment. His words were careful when he spoke. “Do you think this is a good idea? For you to go back to work being pregnant?”

She shot him a look of surprise. It never occurred to her that it wouldn’t be okay.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t,” Ethan hastily added. “And I’m certainly not telling you I don’t want you to work. Even if I don’t,” he added ruefully. “I just want to make sure this is something that doesn’t hurt you or the baby.”

Her tension eased and she smiled. “We’ll be fine. Pregnant women work every single day. If I have to sit at home for my entire pregnancy, I’ll go insane. I’ll never make it. Teaching will give me something to focus on rather than worrying obsessively over the baby.”

Ethan nodded. “I just want you to be sure.”

“I am,” she said resolutely. “Now, I’m going to call Rusty and get going so we aren’t shopping the entire day. I’ve got my heart set on barbeque tonight.”

Chapter 6

Rachel checked her text messages and smiled when she saw three from Ethan. Two were checking up on her to see how she was coping at work, and the third was to let her know he’d gotten her an appointment right after school with an obstetrician in Murray, Kentucky, which was not far from where they lived, just across the border.

There was a big women’s clinic in Murray, and she preferred to use it rather than the much smaller hospital and clinic in Paris, Tennessee.

She sent a quick text back saying she’d meet him at the clinic and then turned her attention back to the papers in front of her. It was her planning period, and the classroom was empty of students and eerily quiet.

Her first day had gone well. Far better than she’d anticipated. Oddly, she hadn’t suffered the attack of nerves she had on the day she’d substituted the previous week.

For now, at least, this was her class. These were her kids.

She frowned when she got to the paper of one of the girls in her class. Rachel knew the child to be particularly bright. Her grades reflected a studious nature and someone who took her classes very seriously.

The test hadn’t even been completed. There were doodles up and down the margins. The name had been filled out and the few questions she had answered bore the responses of “I don’t care” or “Who cares?” The rest were left blank, and the paper was worn and crumpled as if the girl had fidgeted and toyed with it the entire testing period.

Rachel put the test to the side, determined to delve further into the matter.

She was absorbed in grading the rest of the test papers when the bell rang, startling her from her concentration. A moment later, the students began to file into the room, and she quickly sought out the girl whose paper had been rife with incorrect and unanswered questions.

Jennifer was her name, and she was a beautiful, shy little girl. Not yet up with most of her classmates who were beginning to experiment with make-up and showing mad interest in boys.

Rachel watched as Jennifer took her seat and hunched over at her desk, not looking anywhere but in front of her.

Something was terribly wrong, and Rachel just hoped it wasn’t too complicated.

It was difficult to continue casually in class without drawing notice to the fact she was preoccupied with Jennifer. The very last thing she wanted was to make the girl uncomfortable or draw attention to her.

When the final bell of the day rang, dismissing the kids to the respective bus and car lines, Rachel breathed a sigh of relief.

“Jennifer,” she called softly when the girl got up to depart the room. “Can I have a moment please?”

Jennifer turned, her eyes wide with alarm. Nervousness radiated from her in tangible waves, and she fidgeted as she approached the desk.

“I won’t keep you long so you won’t miss your bus,” Rachel said gently. “I was looking at your test paper from earlier and wondered what was wrong. It’s not like you not to perform well on an exam. You’re an excellent student with an A average in all subjects.”

Jennifer’s face crumpled as tears flashed in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Kelly. I know what I did was wrong. I was just so angry and upset.”

Rachel put her hand on Jennifer’s and squeezed gently. “I’m more concerned about you than I am one test grade. Is everything okay at home?”

“N-no,” Jennifer sobbed. “My mom and dad are splitting up and it just sucks. They’re so selfish. They fight all the time, and they never think of anyone but themselves. They don’t care about me.”

Rachel’s heart sank as she viewed the devastation in the younger girl’s eyes. Thirteen was such a hard age under any circumstances. Let alone when your entire family was crumbling in front of you.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” Rachel said. “I know how upset you must be. I’m sure your mom and dad love you very much. Sometimes adults forget themselves and react emotionally, and often they say things they don’t mean.”

“Maybe,” Jennifer mumbled.

“How about you come in on your lunch break tomorrow, and I’ll let you retake your exam,” Rachel offered.

Jennifer lifted her head, her eyes a little more hopeful than before and not so desolate. “You’d do that for me? I don’t deserve a second chance. I screwed up big time.”

Rachel smiled. “Honey, we all deserve a second chance.”

“Thanks, Ms. Kelly. You’re the best. I’ll be here. Promise.”

“Keep your chin up, okay? Things will get better.”


Jennifer sighed but didn’t respond. She turned, clutching her books to her chest, and hurried out the door.

*

Rachel sat in stunned silence in the exam room, hardly able to process what the doctor had told her. It was shocking enough to find out she was, by the doctor’s approximation, at least twelve weeks along, but when he’d done the internal sonogram to ascertain fetal age, he’d found two heartbeats.

Twins.

She couldn’t even wrap her head around it. Her hands shook every time she pried them away from one another, so she finally gave up and left them clasped tightly in her lap.

Ethan leaned against the exam table where she sat, her legs dangling over the edge, and he seemed every bit as in shock as she was.

His breath was explosive in the small room.

“Holy shit,” he breathed. “Twins.”

Then he turned to her, his eyes glowing with excitement.

“Twins!” he said again.

A broad smile attacked her face, and then she latched onto Ethan’s shoulders all but shaking him in her excitement.

“Oh my God, Ethan. Two babies.”

She felt light-headed, and for a moment she wobbled like a drunken party girl in four-inch heels. Ethan made a grab for her and held her steady so she didn’t fall off the exam table.

“Whoa, sweetheart. Why don’t you come over here and sit. I don’t want you taking a header.”

He led her to the chair against the wall and then eased her down. He knelt in front of her, her hands gathered in his.

“We’re so blessed,” she whispered. “I can hardly believe it.”

He smoothed the hair from her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. There was concern as well as elation in his eyes.

“We’re going to have to be careful, baby. You’re going to have to take it easy. I don’t want anything to happen to you or to the babies.”

She leaned into him, touching her forehead to his. “I’m scared out of my mind, but I’m so happy and giddy that I could just explode.”

He kissed her softly. “I’m scared too. Terrified is probably a better word. This time is going to be different, Rachel. I swear it.”

She looked at him long and hard, love welling from deep within her as she took in the sincerity of his words.

“I lost a lot of my memories,” she said in a low voice. “Some have returned. Some have stayed buried. But perhaps the miscarriage should be a memory we both agree to put away and keep in the past where it belongs. It has no place in the here and now and serves no purpose except to make our hearts heavy with regret.”

For a long moment he went completely silent. There was a wealth of emotion burning in those blue eyes. His lips were firm, almost as if he were keeping a tight leash on his emotions and keeping himself in check.

“I love you,” she said.

He hauled her into his arms and held on so tightly she couldn’t breathe. His entire body heaved against her as his breaths tore raggedly from his chest.

“I love you too,” he choked out. “God, I love you so much, Rachel. I love our babies.”

Slowly he released her and pulled back, a look of awe on his face.

“Ourbabies,” he whispered.

Tears slid unheeded down her cheeks, and her face hurt from the wide smile cracking her lips ever upward.

“Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about how the news was received,” the doctor said from the doorway.

Rachel and Ethan both turned to see the middle-aged obstetrician standing in the doorway, a grin on his face.

Ethan scrambled up, and Rachel started to rise herself, but the doctor motioned her down.

“Sit, sit,” he urged. “I won’t keep you long. I know this has all been quite a shock for you, and you’ll want and need time to soak it all in.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Ethan murmured.

The doctor leaned against the exam table as he studied her chart.

“You’ve had one previous miscarriage, is that correct?”

Rachel nodded, refusing to allow anything to dampen her euphoria.

“Miscarriages are a lot more common than most people realize,” the doctor continued. “There’s no obvious reason why you won’t be able to have a perfectly normal pregnancy and deliver two healthy, squalling babies.”

She grinned at the image, and Ethan reached over to squeeze her hand.

“You automatically go into the high-risk category, as anyone pregnant with multiples does,” he said matter-of-factly. “That doesn’t mean anything more than you’ll need to take extra care to rest. Take it easy. Don’t try to lift anything heavy. Don’t overdo it. Moderate exercise is fine. Nothing too strenuous. Make sure you’re eating enough. If the old adage eating for two is correct, then realize you’re eating for three.”

He chuckled as he said the last.

“For now I’ll see you once a month, and later I’ll want to see you every two weeks. We’ll watch you a lot more closely, and we’ll monitor the babies as it gets closer to your due date. In some cases, it becomes necessary to take the babies before the normal gestational period is up, but there are more full-term sets of twins being born all the time. It really depends on mother and babies. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now go home, celebrate, take it easy, and I’ll see you back here in four weeks. If you have any problems or questions, don’t hesitate to call me.”

“Thank you,” Ethan said, extending his hand.

The doctor smiled and shook Ethan’s hand and then took Rachel’s. “Congratulations to the both of you.”

“Thank you,” Rachel murmured, echoing Ethan’s words.

The doctor disappeared, leaving the two alone in the exam room. As Rachel rose from the chair, the nurse bustled in with an appointment card and a prescription for prenatal vitamins.

“We’ll want to redo labs when you come in next month just to make sure your HCG levels are where they should be. Nothing to worry about. Just routine stuff.”

“Thank you,” Rachel said.

The nurse smiled and backed from the room then gestured for Ethan and Rachel to go ahead of her.

Rachel walked through the waiting room, numb, somewhere between shock and utter elation. She still couldn’t take it all in.