It was hard to tell which was worse, the bone-crushing sensation of the machine or the roar of noise that greeted Robin, Dean, and Elizabeth as they landed.
“Where are we?” Dean hollered over the sound of a jet engine taking off.
“Los Angeles International,” Robin yelled back. They were in the parking lot. “Lots of places we could go from here, just in case Donald finds a way to follow us. There’s the shuttle to the airport. Let’s get on. I’ve got to get to an ATM.”
The driver stared at the three as they boarded the bus.
“It’s a joke,” Robin said, nervously. “We belong to this living history club, and we’ve got this friend that’s coming in, and, well, he’s supposed to freak when he sees us, figuring he got the wrong era, and… It’ll be funny. Really.”
The driver chuckled. “Sounds like a good one.”
Elizabeth kept her head down during the short ride. At the terminal, Robin found an ATM readily enough, got the money she wanted, then got change.
“Why?” asked Dean.
“We’ll need it for the trains so we can get back to Pasadena,” Robin told him. “Elizabeth, you okay?”
“I am all right,” she sighed. “It’s noisy and things move so strangely. But I’ll get used to it.”
“Trains?” asked Dean. “What trains?”
“Wake up, Dean,” Robin snarled. “Los Angeles has public transportation now. We’ll take the bus to the Green Line to the Blue Line to the Red Line to the Gold Line. There’s a stop about half a mile from my house.”
They got more stares from people as they waited on the various platforms for the electric trains. Robin got a fix almost immediately on the date and time – late morning, one day before the date she’d programmed. It was almost mid-afternoon when they finally got to the porch of Robin’s house. Robin unlocked the door quickly and jammed everyone inside.
“We’re not safe yet,” she told them. “How are you doing, Elizabeth?”
She smiled softly. “You keep asking me. I said I am fine.”
“Okay. Good.” Robin looked at Elizabeth again. “Geez, Elizabeth, your stays are really straining.”
“I know. My dress feels very tight.”
“I should have something upstairs that you can throw on until I can get you those clothes we bought before we took you back to your time.” Robin looked around. “I’m going to shower first, then head over to my office. That’s where I sent our luggage. Dean, you’d better start combing that flour out of your hair. If you try washing it out, it’ll turn into big sticky globs.”
Robin found an old t-shirt and athletic shorts for Elizabeth and then set to work combing out flour and getting showered. The worst part was that she knew she shouldn’t linger. But she couldn’t resist the glory of hot water running down her back after so many months without any running water at all. She also paused while toweling off, enjoying the scent of a clean towel. After getting dressed in jeans and another shirt, she stuffed her hair under her hat, then headed out.
“Robin!” proclaimed the receptionist, a young man named Alex. “I thought you weren’t going to be back for another couple weeks, at least.”
“I’m not and I’m not here,” Robin said, genially. “Would you get on the P.A. and let everyone else know I’m not here? I am merely a figment of everyone’s imagination.”
“Hey, Robin,” said Steve Wasserman, her partner. “How was England?”
“Great, and I’m not here.”
“Can we pretend you are and will you look at this little glitch that—”
“No! I am not here.” She looked over at Alex. “Make that announcement. Now.”
“Seriously, Robin,” Steve continued as Alex started the announcement.
“No way, Steve.” Robin moved quickly toward her office. “I’m just here to pick up some stuff that I had sent here from my trip, and I am out of here.”
“But when are you coming back?” Steve remained hot on her heels.
Robin paused. It was a better question than she’d anticipated. “Uh, in a couple weeks or so, according to plan. I got back early from Europe to deal with… To deal with some family stuff. I’m just going to pick up my boxes and get out. Okay?”
In the end, Robin needed Steve to help with the boxes, so she looked at the glitch, had a much longer conversation than she wanted over how to fix it, and then left, feeling slightly unnerved by the whole experience.
Back at the house, Robin gave Elizabeth her clothes. When Elizabeth had changed, Robin could have sworn that Elizabeth’s tummy had grown even since she had left an hour before.
“So, what do we do now?” asked Dean, after he had changed into his modern clothes.
“We hide,” said Robin. “I’ve just called Dad and he said we could use his cabin for a while.”
“Yeah, but won’t what’s-his-name be able to find us through Dad’s name?” Dean said.
“Not really. Dad bought it under some corporation deal with that company that owns the patents on his inventions. It’ll be pretty hard to trace it to him. We can use it for free, which means we won’t have to use credit cards, which are traceable. And it’s pretty secluded, which means we’ll be able to help Elizabeth adjust more slowly.”
“We can’t stay here?” Elizabeth asked, grimacing slightly.
Robin shook her head. “Too easy for Donald to trace. But the car trip shouldn’t take that long.”
“I will be all right,” Elizabeth said, resolutely, although her face betrayed her fear.
They left shortly afterward. Robin was less than thrilled that their first meal back in their own time had to be fast food, but Dean wasn’t complaining.
“Aw, come on, Robin, these are the best burgers on the planet,” he proclaimed as they ate in the car.
Robin didn’t answer. She knew she should concentrate on driving, but all she could think about was what to do after they got to the cabin. And how they would explain Elizabeth to their mother. And whether time travel would be forever denied her. And when would Roger come?
The drive was not the most pleasant or easy. Rush hour traffic was in full force and while Elizabeth was amazed by the huge number of cars also on the freeway with them, at least, she wasn’t frightened by high speeds simply because Robin couldn’t get going any faster than twenty-five miles per hour. By the time the traffic had eased, Elizabeth was a little more accustomed to moving quickly, even twenty-five miles an hour being exceedingly fast for her experience. She even managed to watch out the window as the suburbs of Southern California flew past.
It was closing in on dark when they finally arrived at the cabin in Big Bear. Dean got Elizabeth inside and warned her about the lights, as Robin brought in the luggage. The cabin was more of a large house decorated in rustic mountain style, with a huge, vaulted ceiling in the living room and a second story with three bedrooms.
“Woh, this place is pretty cool,” said Dean, looking around.
“Haven’t you been here before?” Robin asked.
Elizabeth suddenly grabbed the back of a sofa and groaned.
“What’s the matter?” Dean yelped.
“Nothing,” she gasped. “I’ve got to go to bed though. It’s too soon, but I’ve gotten so big suddenly. Maybe the baby will be big enough.”
“You’re in labor.” Robin looked at her in shock.
“Yes.” Elizabeth nodded, as the contraction subsided.
Robin swallowed. “How long?”
“Since before we left your home.”
“In labor?” Dean squeaked. “Why didn’t you say anything?’
“Because I knew I had time and we couldn’t stay there, anyway,” said Elizabeth.
“Great,” Robin grumbled. “How fast are the pains coming?”
“Fast. Oh, no. Here it comes again.” Elizabeth doubled over.
Robin checked her watch. “Hell, that’s less than two minutes. We’ve got to get you to a hospital!”
“I’m not going anywhere!” Elizabeth snapped. “Except to bed.”
“We can’t deliver a baby here,” groaned Dean.
“It looks like we’re going to have to.” Robin looked around. “Oh, hell, how do you do this?”
“You don’t do anything,” laughed Elizabeth. She grimaced as another pain took over. “Except catch it. I’ve got all the work to do. We’ll need something to wrap the baby in, some water to clean it with, and a good sharp knife.”
“A knife? For what?” Dean’s panic grew.
“To cut the cord.”
“No. We won’t do that,” said Robin. “But you’re right about the other things. Let’s get you upstairs. The master bedroom has a bathroom there. We’ll have all the water we need. Dean, give me a hand.”
Dean helped Elizabeth into the room while Robin turned down the bed and laid out some towels to protect the sheets.
“Dean, you’d best fetch that water,” Elizabeth said through clenched teeth as she sat down on the bed.
“We’ve got water in there.” Robin pointed. “And he’s staying right here. I can’t do this alone.”
“But he’s a man!” Elizabeth protested.
“So do I stay or go?” Dean asked frantically.
“Do you want to see your kid born?” Robin demanded.
“Well, yeah, but I figured I’d get to go to class first.”
“Class?” Elizabeth looked at them bewildered. “You have to learn how to have a baby?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous,” Robin said. “But you learn how to relax with the contractions, breathing and all that. And he learns how to coach you. I’ve heard it works really well. Anyway, fathers are always in the delivery room with the mothers. Let’s get you undressed.”
Elizabeth gulped. “In front of Dean?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Elizabeth, that’s how he got you this way!”
“Um, Robin, it wasn’t,” Dean said.
“Huh? Oh, never mind. Dean, go get some more towels. They should be in the bathroom closet.”
“All I need to remove are my drawers,” Elizabeth said.
She groaned, then pulled the underpants off. Dean reappeared, then grimaced with her as the next contraction took hold.
The pains came fast and hard. Elizabeth cried out again and again. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead.
“When the head comes,” she gasped when she could. “Check that the cord isn’t around the neck. Oh, no!”
“Keep talking, Elizabeth.” Robin coaxed, although she already knew what to do from her first aid classes. Anything to keep Elizabeth’s mind off the pain. “Tell me everything I have to do.”
“Turn the head. Turn it to… to… the shoulders are right.” Elizabeth broke down in sobs.
Dean squeezed her hand. “Hey, it’s alright, honey. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay.”
It was almost as hard on him as it was on Elizabeth. The pain was terrible, and he was helpless to relieve it. Yet, even so, as the labor progressed, he got calmer and focused on reassuring Elizabeth.
Elizabeth grunted, straining all of a sudden.
“Don’t push yet,” Robin ordered.
“Don’t push until you absolutely must. Whatever you do, try not to.”
“That’s right,” said Dean. “We’ve got to make sure you’re completely ready to have this kid.”
Elizabeth nodded and cried out as the contraction hit yet again. Dean mopped her brow with a damp washcloth, then gave her another to suck on. Robin went and washed her hands to the elbows.
Ten minutes later, Elizabeth strained again.
“Don’t push,” Robin ordered.
“I have to!” Elizabeth shrieked.
Robin helped her bend her legs, then swung a bright reading lamp around. She aimed it right where the baby would be coming. The contractions slowed down a little but remained just as hard.
“Okay,” Robin said. “Push with the next contraction and push for all you’re worth. Dean, you’d better start cheering her on. She’s bushed.”
“Help me sit,” Elizabeth ordered.
Dean pushed her up from behind as she strained even harder.
“Enough,” she gasped as the contraction died.
“That’s a good idea,” Robin said. “Try and rest where you can, Elizabeth.”
“I’ve no choice,” she murmured. Her breath caught. “Help up!”
Dean shoved her into place. “Come on, Elizabeth, push that baby out.”
Robin helped spread her legs. “Hot damn, Dean! I can see the head!”
“Yeah?” Holding Elizabeth up with one arm, Dean reached and looked. “I can see it, too. Won’t be much longer now.”
Elizabeth nodded and sank backward. As tears slipped from her eyes, Dean gently let her down. Seconds later, he helped her up again.
“It’s coming.” Robin encouraged. “Just a few more pushes, Elizabeth. Just a few more.”
Elizabeth sank back again. “Water.”
Dean handed her the washcloth. She sucked greedily, then yelped. Dean heaved her back up.
The head came fast. Robin watched, transfixed in wonder as it emerged. Dean peered anxiously over Elizabeth’s shoulder. Poor Elizabeth was almost too tired to know what was going on.
As the chin cleared, Robin checked to make sure the cord was not around the neck. It wasn’t.
“Okay, we’ve got a chin and there’s no cord,” she announced.
Elizabeth sobbed and nodded. Robin gently held the head, then jostled out the top shoulder, then the bottom. Elizabeth gave one more push, and the rest slipped out.
The tiny purple body was covered with blood and a light white mucus-like substance. Robin pinched the bottom, and the baby sprang to life with a loud, coughing wail.
“It’s a girl,” Robin muttered, then louder, “It’s a girl. We did it!” Her tears flowed. “You guys have a girl and she’s all right.”
Elizabeth sank back onto the pillows, half laughing and half sobbing.
“And I’m alive,” she whispered.
“Of course, you are.” Dean sniffed and wiped his eyes.
Robin wrapped the still crying infant in a towel and handed her to Dean.
“Dean, no.” Elizabeth gasped.
“It’s okay,” Dean said, grinning. “I know how to hold a baby. See?”
Elizabeth smiled and nodded. “She’s hungry.”
“Are you sure you’re up to feeding her?” Robin asked as she held Elizabeth’s legs and waited for the placenta.
“I don’t think she’ll go that far,” said Dean. “She’s still hooked up.”
“Get the knife and cut the cord,” Elizabeth said.
“Nope,” said Robin. “There’s a better way to handle it. Here comes the placenta.” She caught it in a towel. “Yuck. What a mess. We’ll wrap it up with the baby, then take you to the hospital and get the cord cut there.”
“But why?” Elizabeth asked.
“Because of germs, Elizabeth. We don’t want to take a chance on infecting the baby, or you, for that matter.” Robin laid the placenta on top of the baby and wrapped them both together in another towel.
“She’s so small.” Dean gazed at her in wonder.
“Let me nurse.” Elizabeth pulled herself up on the pillows and reached for the baby.
Dean handed her over. Robin watched for a minute, then began cleanup operations. Dean laid his hand on the baby’s back and lovingly kissed Elizabeth.
“She’s beautiful,” he whispered.
Robin turned away. Something in her ached with loneliness. She tried telling herself that she wouldn’t have to deal with diapers and two o’clock feedings and other such nonsense. Even that proved to be small consolation. She quickly collected all the soiled linens and hurried out to the garage where the washer and dryer were.
While Robin was gone, Elizabeth prevailed upon Dean to get a knife.
“She does have a point about those germs, you know,” Dean said, bringing the knife in.
“But it’s not good to keep the cord on.”
“True.” Dean went into the bathroom and came back with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. “This’ll take care of Robin’s problem.”
He poured the alcohol over the knife, then handed it to Elizabeth. She made short professional work of the cord, then handed the bundle with the placenta to Dean.
“It should be burnt.”
“Hm.” Dean looked around. “Good thing there’s a fireplace in here, especially one with gas logs.”
Elizabeth looked at him, puzzled, then jumped as he turned on the gas and touched a match to it. The little bundle crackled merrily but sent a rather nasty scent into the room.
“What smells?” asked Robin, coming in. She saw the towel in the flames. “Terrific. I did know what I was doing, you know.”
“So does Elizabeth,” said Dean. “And she was worried. I thought it would be better if she could relax.”
Robin couldn’t argue. Exhausted, she pulled out a dresser drawer and lined it with the last two towels.
“This’ll do for a crib until we can get something better,” she said. “We’re going to have a hell of a time taking showers tomorrow, though. We’ve used every last towel in the place.”
She took the drawer over to the bed.
“Thank you,” said Elizabeth. “For everything.”
“No sweat,” said Robin. “You take it easy and rest up. I figure there’s no rush to get to the hospital now. We’ll go in the morning.”
“Okay,” said Dean. “Goodnight.”
Robin left the room elated and down, both at the same time.