Authors note:

I apologize for the insane lack of updates this story is suffering! I am now a senior in high school which means I'm on the downhill slide for the most part in regards to classes. (Junior year drained me of nearly all patience for writing, so my personal stories suffered also, not just my fanfictions). But thank you for being patient!

West Virginia, 1884

When there was no immediate reply I balled my hand into a fist and slammed it against my uncle's porch.

"JENNY!" I screamed, hoping to make as much racket as I could.

The front door slammed open behind me, hitting the front wall of the house with an ear-splitting bang.

"Oh sweet Jesus, now?"

Had I not been in so much pain I would have laughed at my aunt's less-than-hospitable reaction. She seized my arm and helped me to my feet, turning me so I could hobble into the house.

"Damnit Jenny are you goin' deaf?!" my aunt Lavicy screamed into the open door, over the children's heads.

Jenny skidded around the side of the house, losing her balance and landing in the dirt as she attempted to corner the building at high speed. She gave a startled whoop as she slid into Cotton-top, who had just breached the hill led by Nancy, a small handful of daisies clutched in his fist.

I tried to catch my ragged breath as my aunt bellowed out orders over my head.

"Cotton-top you run inside and get the little 'uns and take 'em out back, you hear? Nancy, you go too. An' don't let 'em back in 'til I say you can!"

Cotton-top was snapped out of his solemn reverie by the sudden burst of excitement and he nodded silently, his large innocent eyes wide with confusion, but willing to obey.

Lavicy booted children left and right out her way as she and Jenny steered me into the house, my own four looking at me with wide, excited eyes.

"You's gonna have th' baby, mama?" Violet asked, her large brown eyes shining with anticipation. I smiled weakly, reaching out a hand to cup her face.

"I sure is, baby." I replied. "Y'all 're gonna have a new baby brother or sister. But you go on out back with Cotton-top and yer cousins alright? Go on!"

Wall took his sisters and brother's hands and followed the small procession of Hatfield children out the door, away from the pain of childbirth.

"Abi!" Lavicy hollered up the stairs, fists perched on her hips in her impatience. "Git down here! Honey's havin' her baby and we need you!"

There was no reply from the upstairs bedroom and my aunt threw up her hands, flinging them away from her as she growled out her frustration at my cousin's idleness. I did not share her misgivings, though. Abi had just lost her father, it was my opinion to just leave the poor thing be.

My aunt Lavicy spread out clean sheets on the floor as Jenny nearly tripped over herself in her stampede out the door to get fresh water to boil. I rolled my eyes up to the ceiling, contemplating the first three births I had experienced.

By the time Jenny was back and sloshing water out of the tub in her nervousness, the pain had increased to a business-like tone. And just as my aunt Lavicy said to push for the first time, I could have sworn I heard gunshot in the back of my mind.

I stared down at the little pink bundle wrapped in my shawl. Lavicy and Jenny had since left me in peace, serving the children their suppers out on the front porch. It was a peaceful evening to an anything-but-day. A small creak on the stairs caught my attention and my head whipped up to meet Abi's blue-eyed gaze. She stared at me and the baby, clad in a white night-dress, her golden hair loose and flowing free about her shoulders so that she looked for all the world like a guardian angel.

The silence hung in the air between us until she spoke.

"How was it?" she asked quietly, nodding at me.

I shrugged gently, not wishing to disturb Hattie's slumber.

"Alright, easier than the first, but worse than the last."

Abi nodded, glancing down at the floor beneath her feet before meeting my gaze again.

"'I didn't wanna see no more blood." She murmured weakly, "not just yet at least."

I smiled at my cousin, stretching out my free arm toward her. She left the staircase to take my hand, burying her face in my shoulder. I laid my head on top of hers, staring out the window at the darkening sky above. Abi's head shifted and I moved mine to look at her. She was staring intently at the new baby, one slender finger stretched out to meet her second-cousin.

"What'd you name her?" she asked gently, stroking my little girl's hand tenderly.

"Hattie." I replied proudly, gazing down at the sleeping form in my arms, the lamp-light and fading sun-light skipped across her little face in a whirling, joyful dance.

"Honey?" Abi spoke up suddenly, turning so that she might rest her chin on my shoulder and look me in the eyes.

"Hm?" I replied, taking one more moment to revel in my daughter's face before turning to meet my cousin's.

Abi stared at me a minute before continuing.

"When is it gonna get easier?" she asked, sorrow intertwined with each and every syllable of every word of her sentence. I felt my heart twitch at every tear that soaked her words and I was moved with pity. But I had to answer truthfully. I did not know.

Abi was always among the first to show up after the births of each of my children. And my heart never failed to pang sharply when she gazed upon each newest baby with joy, but also with the smallest touch of sorrow concealed in their sky-blue depths. I truly could not wait for the day when Abi would announce joyfully that she was in the family at last, and I could help her prepare for the baby just as she had helped me prepare for mine. But so far that day had not come, and lately I had taken down to adding the blessing of a baby for Abi and Will to my ever lengthening string of prayers each night.

That was all I could do lately, pray.

"I do not know, Abi. I truly don't." I told her, staring into her eyes until I felt I had to look away for fear of tearing up. I gazed back down at my new little miracle and Abi rested her head against me once more just as my aunt Lavicy entered with a full brood of Hatfield and Wallace children.

"Abi why don't you take Nancy and get the children ready for bed? They can play down here for a bit until Anderson gets back alright?"

Abi turned slowly to look up at our aunt. When she did not speak I discreetly gave her arm a gentle pinch, bringing her back to the world of the living.

"Alright." Abi replied, and I breathed a sigh of relief as she stood to herd children up the stairs. My own brood gathered around me, nestling up against my legs, eyes shut tight against the world.