Excerpt from For the Love of Justice

Emma
     Bad things happen to good people—that's just the way the world works.
     Seated in Judge's favorite rocker on the front porch of the ranch, I creek forward and back at a steady pace as my mind swirls with worry of how Lacie Joe and her baby are going to survive her pregnancy.
     The doctors say that the only cure for Lacie Joe's condition—preeclampsia, is with the delivery of the baby. She's barely into her third trimester, week twenty-eight, so we count each passing day when the baby doesn't arrive prematurely as a gift.
     I quick-glance at my watch and realize I've been stalling for nearly twenty minutes—sitting out here in this rocker listening to the birds tweet in the trees, avoiding entering the house. I'm still a chicken-shit when it comes to seeing Lacie Joe on bed rest.
     Summoning courage from deep within, I pull up my proverbial bootstraps and creak open the screen door.
     "Judge, I'm here!" I say as I tip-toe into the living room. Maybe I'll be lucky and Lacie Joe will be sleeping. Hanging my cowboy hat on the wooden pitch fork—which doubles as a hat rack, I stop at the landing on the base of the steps leading to the second floor.
     "Freckles. I'm in the kitchen." Judge's voice carries from the back of the house, along with the pungent aroma of fresh coffee. "Go on up. You're late." The tinny sound of a silver spoon swirling cream inside his ceramic coffee mug follows—echoing his disapproval for my tardiness.
     Letting out an audible grown I climb the steps—cursing at myself beneath my breath for acting like such a child. Words can barely express how much Lacie Joe means to me. She gave me a chance when I was orphaned by the rest of the world. She's known for hustling and bustling 24/7. Now she's laid up in a dark room connected to a heart monitor. It tears me up to see her this way.
     "Lacie Joe?" I whisper from within the doorway to her bedroom.
     "What are you creepin' around for? This isn't a hospital, kid, come on in here and have a seat."
     Lacie Joe sits bolt upright in her bed. A dozen stuffed pillows perched behind her back. A soft white chenille bedspread lay perfectly pressed against the growing mound of her belly. Not even a wrinkle.
     Letting out a nervous laugh I join her by the side of the cast-iron bed and lean in to give her a hug. "You look like royalty sitting atop the mattress like that." Her silky black hair appears freshly brushed and her face is smooth and glossy.
     "Dern it! Lacie Joe. Did you just take a shower?" I loosen my arms from around her shoulders, standing upright so I can look her in the eyes.
     "Don't make such a fuss about it." Lacie Joe's lips curve in a wicked smile. "I wasn't up for very long."
     "You know how this works, Lacie Joe. I came to help you. I'm on strict orders from Officer Jay Hayworth, you know—your husband." I exaggerate his name in jest. "...to get you showered and back in bed in twenty minutes."
     "That's exactly how late you are—twenty minutes. I heard your car pull up outside. Did you forget how the sound of crunching gravel carries out here in the wild blue yonder?"
     "No." Yes. Once again I let fear conquer my common sense.
     Lacie Joe grabs my hand and pulls me onto the bed beside her. I sit gently as though the mattress is made of glass. "How are you feeling?" I ask.
     "Good." She answers. Although the glint of moisture in her smoky eyes indicates otherwise. Rubbing her belly in a circular motion she adds, "My little work in progress has been busy."
     I wrinkle my nose in response. I know nothing about children. Or being pregnant. I can't even imagine myself with a baby right now. "Busy how?"
     "On the ultrasound we could see the baby sucking their thumb." She's always so careful not to say he or she. Burns me to no end. I wanna know!
     "Awww, that's adorable. It's so amazing how you can see inside your body with those fancy imaging machines."
     Lacie Joe's eyes begin to sparkle. A motherly glow brightens her cheeks as she shares more details. "The baby probably weighs around two and a half pounds now. There are premature babies born at this weight, even smaller, who have survived." She casts her eyes downward. We all know the risks of her condition. We live in fear of something horrible happening every day.
     "Let's keep baby Hayworth in there as long as possible, okay?" I lean and speak softly next to her stomach. "Hey little one, how about you learn a lesson from auntie Emma and arrive late. Take your time to fully develop. No one here is going to get mad at you about that."
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