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The Next Step…
Chapter 56 – December
Written by Deanne Bertram

Arrangements had been made with Lou for the McCain’s and the Lane’s to celebrate the three upcoming birthdays, Hope’s, Mark’s, and Seth Edward’s, over supper.

Since Mark and Hope had requested the night to be more about Seth Edward and family, than themselves, the men were teasing Ethan that he’d need to hire out a porter to carry all the gifts for his son, home.

“Oh, I thought that’s what families were for?” Ethan replied with good natured banter.

*****

The McCain’s laughed as they told of the first birthday party for Little Ted, Josh, and Zach.

“Ma baked several different cakes. One for the boys and two others for the rest of the guests,” Hope stated.

“Yes, you should have seen how the three of them demolished their cake with their hands,” Milly replied.

“It wasn’t so funny when it came time to bathe them,” Mark stated as he looked to his nephew and saw the icing all over his face.

*****

As the evening wound down, Lucas and Seth sat to the side, they quietly talked of their pasts, as single fathers, both trying to raise a son. Both men smiled, knowing how much fuller their lives had become over the past few years. Wondering what life had in store for them, next…

Lucas saw Mark excuse himself from the group and headed out to the front of the hotel.

“I’ll be right back Seth.”

“That’s okay Lucas, I think I should rejoin the group anyway. See you in a few minutes.”

Lucas walked out the hotel doors and saw Mark sitting in a chair out front. Mark quickly wiped his hand below his eyes, as Lucas sat down in the chair next to him, and turned his jacket collar up to the cool temperatures.

“Something in your eye?” Lucas asked.

“Memories.”

“I understand. Seth and I were just talking of how we were both single fathers trying to raise a son and now look at our families.”

“It’s just that I saw everyone in the room and for a moment, it was overpowering. For a moment, I almost felt like there wasn’t enough air in the room for everyone.”

“Take your time coming back in.”

“I’ll be back inside in a moment. I want to thank God, one more time, for the blessings I have.”

Lucas knew how Mark felt, he felt the same way. He returned to the gathering inside.

*****

Lucas and Milly celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary that Christmas eve. It was a wonderful evening with the two families sharing supper and then afterwards, Mark and Hope singing Christmas songs, with Lucas and Milly occasionally joining in.

They watched as their young children struggled to keep their eyes awake, hoping to; just maybe, catch Santa Claus coming down the chimney.

“Papa,” Myra said. “If there’s fire in the fireplace, how does Santa get down the chimney?”

Milly raised her hand to her mouth to hide her laughter, as she looked to Lucas.

“Well…” Lucas started to say.

“Come on Pa, I want to know too. I’m sure my boys will be asking that question in a few years and I want to be able to tell them.”

Lucas gave Mark one of ‘those’ looks.

“Well, no body really knows how he does it. You see, some how, Santa knows when children are awake and not sleeping, so he doesn’t come until all the children are asleep,” Lucas answered.

“But you’re not a child, Papa. Don’t you get to see him come?”

“No, because I need to get my sleep so that I can get up early in the morning and tend to my chores, before I get to spend time with my family.”

Milly, Mark, and Hope tried to hide their laughter as Lucas answered Myra’s question.

“Mark, did you ever try to stay up late to see Santa?” Myra asked as he walked over and crawled up into Mark’s lap.

“I did once, but… I fell asleep in Pa’s chair in the front room. I woke the next morning, still in the chair, with Ma cooking breakfast. And there weren’t any presents under the tree. Pa told me because I had tried to catch Santa arriving, that Santa hadn’t left me any gifts in the house.”

“Were you upset?”

“I was Gabby. But then Pa said it was my own fault. After breakfast, we went to the barn to do the chores and you know what?” Mark asked as he hugged his sister.

“What?” Myra asked with excitement.

“Santa left my present in the barn.”

“He did?!” What did he leave you?” Myra asked.

“A pony of my own.”

“Blue Boy?”

“No, I didn’t get Blue Boy until a number of years later. So you see, it won’t do you any good trying to stay up late and spy on Santa’s arrival.”

*****

As it was past time for the boys to be in bed, Lucas carried Josh, while Mark carried Zach, and Hope carried Eli, back to their home and placed them in their beds.

“I still can’t get over seeing you full grown and this room full of children,” Lucas stated as he looked to Mark.

“Seems the number of children in your own home is getting ready to expand, Pa,” Mark replied.

All three quietly laughed as they said goodnight.

*****

The day after Christmas, Lucas and Mark headed out to check on their cattle.

“Feels like a storm front is getting set to move in,” Lucas stated as he mounted Blade.

“I know. The air feels cold, like a snow front’s coming,” Mark replied as he petted Blue Boy, who had hung his head over the corral. “Not today old man, you’re Gabby’s horse now.” With that, Mark mounted Copper.

“Well, come on. Let’s get the cattle checked. The sooner we check them out, the sooner we can get back to our families and get warm.”

*****

That night, the temperature dropped sharply after the sun set. Mark and Hope heard the wind howling outside and went to make sure the pot bellied stove in the boys’ room was well stoked. They pulled the covers up and over and tucked their sons, tight into their beds and then headed back to their bedroom. Mark stoked the pot bellied stove in their bedroom, before returning to bed.

“While we’re waiting for the fire to take hold, we can always warm ourselves up otherwise…” Mark stated.

Hope looked at the boyish expression he held on his face and willingly gave herself to Mark that night.

*****

New Year’s Day dawned bright and cold. Mark headed out to tend to morning chores in the barn. Later he carried some firewood from the shed back into his home. Hope was humming a song while cooking breakfast for her family. And the boys were quietly playing with their toys, in front of the fire.

Later that afternoon, they headed over to Lucas and Milly’s to celebrate Myra’s fifth birthday.

*****

As they entered the home, Myra was there to greet them, “Ma said I’m not to ask if you brought me a present.”

“Didn’t you get enough presents at Christmas?” Mark asked as he bent down to pick his sister up.

“Those were Christmas presents.”

“What other kind of presents are there?”

Myra cupped her hand and placed it to Mark’s ear as she whispered, “Birthday presents.”

“Oh, is today your birthday?”

“You know it is!”

“Then you probably should ask Hope, I think she has something for you.”

“I can’t do that,”

“Why?” Mark asked.

“Ma told me I couldn’t ask.”

“Well then, we don’t want you getting into trouble on your birthday, do we?” Mark asked.

“No!” Myra squealed.

“No what, young lady?” Milly asked.

“I didn’t ask, honest. I told Mark I couldn’t ask,” Myra stated.

Milly knew that Lucas’ two older children were more alike in their ability to get into mischief, than they realized. “Myra, let Mark get out of his coat and why don’t you put it and Hope’s coat on your bed,” Milly stated as she turned to take Eli from Hope, so she could get out of her coat.

Lucas helped the twins get out of their coats.

The family had a wonderful time together while they celebrated Myra’s birthday. Later that afternoon, while Mark and Lucas were out tending to the stock and Milly and Hope prepared supper, they spent a lot of time talking about the anticipated birth of Milly’s baby the end of March.

After supper was eaten and the dishes done, the presents were brought out for Myra. Lucas and Milly had bought her several new dresses to wear to school and another for church. Hope had purchased Myra a new coat to wear. Mark’s present was last.

“Well Mark?” Myra asked.

“What Gabby?” Mark replied.

“Didn’t you get a present for me?” Myra pouted a little.

“Oh, you didn’t find my box?”

“Then you did get me a present?”

“I did. Why don’t you go into Little Ted’s bedroom and get your box,” Mark replied.

Myra ran to the room and saw the box setting in the middle of the bed. She pulled it down and carried it into the front room.

“What’s inside?” Myra asked.

“Now you’re just going to have to open the box and see for yourself.”

Myra neatly pulled the colored paper from the box. She pulled off the lid and squealed, “MY OWN COWGIRL HAT! Oh Mark, it’s perfect!”

Myra pulled the hat from the box and put it on her head. “Well, maybe not perfect. Guess I got to do some growing,” Myra stated as she pulled the hat from her head.

“We can fix that,” Hope stated as she asked for the hat.

After inserting some paper in the headband, they placed the hat back on Myra’s head and it was a perfect fit.

“Oh Mark, thank you. I love my hat. And Hope, I love my jacket and I love the dresses that Mama and Papa got me.”

Soon it was time for Mark and his family to return to their home.

The Next Step — A Debt Paid Forward

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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