Summary: The guys share Christmas Memories and make some new ones.
He walked down the boardwalk, his senses on alert for trouble, his eyes searching the storefronts for anything out of place. He stopped upon seeing the man in black sitting outside the saloon. Even from this distance he could feel the emotions that churned inside the man. As if of their own accord his feet took him ever closer. He stopped once more, deliberately breaking the mesmerizing spell. "Buy you a drink cowboy."
Chris's head snapped up. realizing that he had been so lost in thoughts and memories that he had done the unthinkable. He hadnt been paying attention to his surroundings and that could get a man killed. Shaking off his unease, Larabee finally answered, "Yeah, I could use a drink"
The two moved through the swinging doors of the saloon. Chris headed to the table currently occupied by their friends while Vin retrieved a bottle from the bar before sitting down and pouring a round of drinks. As he leaned back in the chair taking a sip of the amber liquid, he knew he only had to be patient and listen in order to find out what had been causing all of his friends their emotional distress lately.
"And the angel said, Fear not for our Savior Christ is born tonight," Josiah quoted to no one in particular. "Hannah always loved hearing me read the Christmas story."
"So did my Mom. Every Christmas wed sit by our little tree and have hot chocolate. I miss her," J.D. admitted, his voice a mere whisper.
"Yeah, my Mom loved Christmas too. Shed have me and the girls help put up decorations and sing. I can still hear her voice singing the carols." A smile lit Bucks face as his heart showed clearly in his tone.
"My dad always seemed to find us a small tree. He would collect all the string and paper the massa would throw out. Us kids would use it to make decorations. This would have been our first Christmas together in years."
"Maude always left me with Aunt CeeCee. No, dont get me wrong, it was the only time of the year that I looked forward to. Her house always smelled of fresh baked pies and cookies. She would let me help make them. I miss her greatly, she was a real genteel lady." Ezra commented, chasing the words with a shot of whiskey.
Silence fell on the group as they all became lost in thoughts of Christmases past.
"Sarah loved Christmas. Shed go all out with decorating and cooking," Chris voice broke the silence. "Every night she would go outside and watch the night sky, looking for the Christmas star and hoping to see it snow."
Vin looked at the men sitting around the table and knew what he needed to do. He mentally made a list of all the items he would need before making his leave using the excuse that he wanted to do round before turning in for the night. Taking one last look at his friends he headed out the door.
The day before Christmas was proving to be a nice day. Though a group of trail hands were in town celebrating, even in their drunken state they seemed to behave with a sense of decency.
Chris watched as J.D rode into town shortly after noon. "I thought Vin was on patrol today?"
"No, he asked me this morning if Id mind doing it. Said there was something that he had to take care of."
A frown crossed Chris's face as he started to walk slowly from one end of the town to the other, hunting for his elusive friend. One by one the others seemed to join him in his search. At each stop, when asked the answer was basically the same. Yes, they had seen Vin but it was earlier in the day and he had helped carry, or stocked something.
Mrs. Potter was their last stop and she was quick to report, "Yes, Vin was in earlier when Nettie was here. She mentioned something about a problem. I didnt hear the whole conversation, but Vin looked really worried and left with her. I havent seen him since."
The men thanked Mrs. Potter before heading for the livery and saddling their horses. The six men were soon on their way to Nettie Wells' place.
As they approached Netties homestead they were prepared for anything, except for the woman herself to step out on the porch, hands on hips and say, "About time you men got here. Now unsaddle them horses and put them in the corral, then get in here."
"Nettie, wheres Vin?" Chris wanted to know.
"Hes busy at the moment. Now I need your help so do as youre told," Nettie answered in a tone that brooked no argument before going back into the house and pulling the door closed behind her.
The men stood unmoving for a moment, just staring at the closed door.
"I propose we do as requested if we wish the ol curmudgeon to disclose what she knows of our colleagues whereabouts," Ezra suggested a note of mirth in his voice.
The animals were soon taken care of and the men moved toward the house. Chris climbed the stairs and was prepared to knock as the door suddenly opened.
"Dont just stand there, come in. You all have work to do," Nettie announced, holding the door open wide.
Entering the comfy home, the mens senses were hit on all levels. The house was filled with the aroma of roasting turkey and cooling pies. The scent of pine wafted from a tree currently propped in the corner.
Nettie took command. "Alright now, Nathan, J.D. theres a box with decorations and anything else you might need for the tree. Chris, Buck, Ive got Cedar and pine wreathes that need hanging and there is garland to be strung and candles for the windows. Josiah, in that chest you will find books from around the world that my husband collected. Im sure you can find some Christmas stories from different lands to share and my Bible is there by the rocking chair. After dinner, I would be obliged if you would consent to read for us. You there, fancy man, in the kitchen with me, weve got cookies and pies that arent going to make themselves."
Nettie moved toward the kitchen then realized that no one was moving. "Well, what you waitin for? Get to it," her tone stern as she turned once more to move to the kitchen. The men couldnt see the smile that graced her face as Ezra followed Nettie to the kitchen area and the others began to move about the room.
"When do you expect Vin back?" Chris asked as he picked up a couple of wreaths to hang on the door and the porch railing.
"When he gets here," Nettie answered vaguely.
Hours later the house was festooned with decorations inside and out and J.D. and Nathan were serenading the group with Christmas carols. Ezra was currently wrist deep in another batch of cookie dough and Buck was holding mistletoe over Ms. Netties head, kissing her on the cheek.
J.D., taking a break from singing, grabbed a cookie that was cooling on the rack and popped it into his mouth. "Hey Ezra, these are great."
"Thank you, Mr. Dunne. Luckily Ms. Wells had the ingredients necessary for my late Aunt CeeCees special Christmas cookies," Ezra commented, wiping a hand across his forehead leaving a streak of flour in its wake.
Chris looked at Nettie Wells and smiled. "Weve been set up. I have a feeling that Vin was listening to us last night as we reminisced about Christmas past. He convinced you to help bring our memories to life, didnt he?"
Nettie suddenly seemed to find her shoes very interesting as she looked down without answering.
Chris realized that there was something that Nettie wasnt telling. "Nettie, wheres Vin?"
"By now he should be on his way back from town. He went in to pick up Mary and Billy, Casey, and Mrs. Potter and the children. He was also going to invite Inez to join us since she has no family to spend Christmas with," Nettie admitted.
"What havent you told us, Nettie? It wouldnt take Vin this long to bring them out here, so what arent you telling us?" Chris pushed.
Nettie looked at the men around her, noting the concerned expressions on their faces. She didnt want to ruin Vins plan but. . . "Vin planned this so you could relive your Christmas memories with laughter and joy, but its also a gift for his ma." Seeing the confused looks Nettie tried to explain, "Today is his mothers birthday. When he was a little boy she once told him that all she wanted for her birthday was the gift of laughter and joy. So by giving you a Christmas full of happy memories he is fulfilling his mothers birthday wish of joy and laughter."
A contemplative silence filled the room. "A pure heart our brother has. We wouldnt think of ruining his present to his mother," Josiahs mellow tone broke the spell.
"Indeed, and Mr. Dunne if you steal one more cookie before the other guests arrive . . . I will tell Mr. Wilmington about the message of Miss Blossoms that you forgot to deliver."
"There werent no message, Buck. Ezra just said that." JD replied just before he took off running out the door and into the yard, Buck hot on his trail.
Nathan looked out the window to guarantee that the two didnt hurt each other and announced, "Here comes Vin with a wagon full."
The rest of the evening passed with good food, carols, laughter, friends and family. Josiah read stories of Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Chris Cringle, but all agreed that his reading of the Christmas story was the high point of the evening.
Chris and Vin quietly slipped out the door and stood on the porch looking out across the yard. The prairie was now blanketed in a fresh covering of white. "Thanks, Vin. Tonight meant a lot to everyone, including me. Your ma would have been proud."
Vin nodded as he looked up at the stars that were starting to peek out. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper before looking to his friend. "Told Nettie I needed to be alone a bit fore I went to pick up the others. I had a lot of words in here," Vins hand rubbed over his heart, "that I needed to put down. It took me a while." He handed the paper to Chris.In Another Eras Time
I see your breath in the limbs of the tree,
Swaying in graceful arches to the song you sing.
Your body no more, your spirit free soaring above,
With the Great Father and his love.
Looking out across the darkened sky,
The air crisp, cold letting out a sigh.
It is the day of your birth a half of a century ago,
The winds of time carrying the memories you sowed.
Tis the season of joy the child was given to all,
Filled with praise and sorrow my arms stretched up I call.
Accepting each path is for a destiny, a purpose, a reason,
Hoping again well stand embracing in another eras season.
Until then though not seen with my eyes,
Your hearts warmth I feel up into the sky.