The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 8 - The Necessary Christmas
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Margaret Gibbs quickly stepped down from the wagon and hurried inside the General Store. It was blistering cold outside and the blowing wind didn’t help matters any! “Hello, Mr. Marvin!” Margaret greeted the store keeper with a warm smile. “It sure is cold out there!”
 
It had been two weeks since the news of Andy’s death had arrived. Abraham McCain’s birthday would be celebrated that evening, December 5, and Margaret was excited to be helping Julie with the preparations. It took her mind off of other things. “Hello, Margaret! How is your family?”
 
“Well…” Margaret sighed as she handed him the list. “We’ll get better. We’re trying to adjust to things as they are…you know…”
 
Mr. Marvin frowned as he looked behind her. “Yes. I understand.”
 
Margaret turned to see Samuel Gibbs standing behind her. “Papa!” She hugged him, but he didn’t return the hug. Margaret stepped away from him. “Papa, you look awful! When are you going to come home?”
 
“I thought we went all through that two weeks ago, Daughter. I’m not coming home. I can’t. I’ve killed one son…”
 
“No, Papa…” Margaret shook her head. “You didn’t. How can I make you understand that? Mother is so distraught…”
 
“Margaret…” Scott’s cold voice sounded in the doorway. “Tend to your chores.” Margaret saw the cold stare Scott was giving their father. She turned back to her father. “You heard me, Margaret.”
 
Margaret went to collect some of the purchases she was picking up. Scott nudged his head toward Samuel and Samuel hurried from the building. “I have to go down to the blacksmith to check on the wheel. I’ll come back for you.” Margaret watched him walk out.
 
“I’m sorry for what’s happened,” Mr. Marvin commented as he gathered her supplies.
 
“My brother’s working so hard right now.” Margaret shook her head. “He has the responsibility of the whole family on his shoulders now. It’s hard. He’s so bitter.”
 
“Can’t say as I blame him.”
 
The door opened again. Emily and Tiffany walked inside. “Margaret!” Emily greeted her. “Shopping for the surprise party, I take it?”
 
“Surprise?” Margaret giggled. “Abraham is very aware he’s having a party tonight, and you know it!”
 
“I know. He doesn’t want us having it this year. He doesn’t feel there’s much to celebrate,” Emily stated with a sigh.
 
“Not much to celebrate…pish posh!” Tiffany declared. “I haven’t been a member of this family long, but we are all healthy…well…” Tiffany sighed. “What I mean is…”
 
“I know what you mean!” Emily assured her with a friendly smile. Suddenly, Tiffany threw a hand to her head and stepped back a pace as she swallowed really hard. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Oh…nothing. I’m…fine now. There for a minute I thought…” Tiffany shook her head. “I’m okay now.”
 
“Are you sure?” Margaret asked as she reached out for Tiffany’s arm. “We could take you to see the doctor.”
 
Tiffany nodded. “Really. I’m fine.”
 
“Well…” Mr. Marvin walked back to the post office in the back of the store. “I just may be able to give you something to celebrate. We received the mail from the army finally. I have a letter addressed to Ruth McCain and family and one addressed to Margaret Gibbs and they are both from the same Corporal in the U.S. Calvary.”
 
“Oh! Thank you!” Emily grabbed the letter. “It was written nearly two weeks ago.” She pressed the letter to her chest. “This will do a world of good for Laura!” Laura was still very upset over Andy’s death. She was sure Andy’s death meant her brother was next. Not hearing from Luke since the tragedy had only added to her conclusion.
 
“Uh…Margaret?” Margaret looked up. “There was one more letter. It’s addressed to the Gibbs family. It’s from…Andy.”
 
Margaret’s mouth opened in a gasp as she reached out for the letter. She stared at the handwriting on the front of the envelope. Tears filled her eyes. She bit her lip and looked up at the ladies. “Excuse me,” she said as she dropped the material in her hand and hurried from the store.
 
Emily started to hurry after her, but Tiffany grabbed her arm. “Let her go. I think she needs to do this alone.”
 
***
 
Margaret walked up the steps to the church and tried the door. She felt a bit joyful when the door opened. Though the reverend usually kept the doors unlocked during the days, the marshal sometimes forgot to unlock them in the morning. Margaret stepped inside. The closing door echoed through the quiet church. Slowly, Margaret walked up to the front. She stared at the altar silently, praying for God to give her strength to read the words.  She lowered herself onto pew on the second row. She wiped the tears from her eyes and slowly opened the envelope. Then she read the last letter Andy ever wrote.
 
Tears fell from her eyes as she stared at the words. The date was November 19. They had celebrated Thanksgiving on November 20 that year, and it was figured that he had died in battle the day before. So his last thought had been of her and the rest of the family. Margaret stared at the altar and remembered the speeches that had been made at his memorial service. The words now echoed in her mind as she tried to wrap sense around this latest letter.
 
The door in the back opened, but Margaret was too wrapped up in her memories of Andy to even hear it. Scott sat down beside her. “I thought I’d find you here.” Margaret turned and allowed her tearful eyes to gaze into his. Scott gently took the letter she was holding in her hand. “When I returned…Emily and Tiffany told me what happened.”
 
A silence settled between them as Scott silently read Andy’s last words to his family. Margaret wiped another tear from her cheek as she stared toward the alter and remembered back to a happier time. The silence was broken only by the rustling of paper. Finally, Margaret found her voice and quietly spoke.
 
“Scott…do you remember when I was seven years old? You were nine or ten at the time. Andy, Luke, and I had gone out to play while our folks did their chores here in town. It was a Saturday and the church was supposed to have been locked up tight.” Margaret pressed her lips together and tried to force a smile to her face, but she never quite succeeded. “Um…Luke found a window cracked and managed to lift it up. Then we climbed in here. Oh, do you remember that old preacher…Reverend Pepper?”
 
Scott chuckled as he put an arm around his sister and pulled her against him. “No, my dear sister. You kids called him Reverend Pepper! His name was actually Reverend Peters!”
 
“You kids?” Margaret grinned as she raised her eyebrows at Scott. She shook her head. “You were only two years older than we were!”
 
“Yes…but I was so much more mature at the age of 9 and ½!”
 
“As I recall,” Margaret lifted her head up and smiled into her brothers eyes. “You “mature kids” had another name for him…but it’s a name that can’t be uttered…especially in church…” Margaret sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. “Andy and Luke took turns pretending to be Reverend Peters. They would wave their arms around and thump their fists on the pulpit. Then Luke started yelling really loud in that booming voice like the reverend used. Andy and I sat together laughing so hard we thought we were going to split open and then…”
 
Scott laughed. “Ah yes…And then the great Reverend Peters himself walked in. I was just coming from the harness shop if I remember right. I saw the reverend dragging the three of you across the street. I remember Pa and Uncle Marcus getting an earful about how rude children should be disciplined.”
 
Margaret chuckled. “I sure was scared! Pa took me and Andy by the arm and led us behind the store. He told us both to get up against the wall, then he took off his belt and whipped us hard! I think he was more upset over the fact that Reverend Peters yelled at him in front of the town then what we had actually done.” Margaret suddenly grew quiet. “We sure did get into a lot of trouble together!”
 
Scott kissed the top of his sister’s head. “And now he’s in Heaven looking down on us. I believe that with all my heart.”
 
“If only…if only I could know…for sure…I mean, this letter…”
 
“You received a letter from Luke.” Scott pointed to the other envelope in her lap. “Perhaps the answer’s in there.” He stood up. “I’ll wait outside if you want to read it now.”
 
Margaret stared at the letter in her hand. She did so want to rip it open and read it at that very moment, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to stop crying once she read his words. “No. I’ll read it tonight.”
 
***
Laura walked from to the barn, carefully carrying the bucket of oats as Abraham walked beside her. She had asked if she could help with the chores, and because her mood had been so low for the past two weeks, Abraham agreed hoping to cheer her up. “Do you know what today is?” Abraham asked as they dumped the oats into the horses’ feeding trough.”
 
“Yes. It’s December 5,” Laura answered with a nod of her head.
 
“Mm hm…” Abraham smiled. “And do you know what that means?”
 
“Christmas is in twenty days!” Laura declared with a smile. Her smile was so cute after having been missing for so long that Abraham couldn’t even retort to her obvious teasing. “And there may be something else special about this day…” Laura put a finger to her chin as she pretended to think.
 
“Well, we ARE in the barn!” Abraham gave her a mock warning. “And we know what happens in the barn!”
 
Laura put a hand on her hip and stuck out her chin. “Abraham McCain, you can’t spank me just cause I’m keeping your surprise birthday party a secret! I…” Laura suddenly slapped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes grew wide.
 
Abraham laughed heartedly as he picked her up and hugged her. “You didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know!”
 
Laura kissed his bearded cheek. “Happy birthday, Abe.”
 
“Happy birthday, Rosebud.” Abraham closed his eyes just after the word escaped his lips. He saw the change in Laura’s demeanor and instantly regretted saying the pet name out loud. He pressed his forehead against her and sighed. “I’m sorry.”
 
They heard the wagon pulling up outside. “That must be Peter and the girls,” Abraham said as he turned and walked out of the barn. The girls climbed down from the wagon and took their packages to start inside. Abraham started to lower Laura back to the ground but Laura moaned and wrapped her arms tighter around his neck. “Alright. You can help me unhitch the team.”
 
“Can that wait?” Emily asked as she walked up to the two. She held up the letter. “Luke sent us a letter, Laura Rose.”
 
Laura slightly lifted her head from Abraham’s chest and looked at the letter. “Are you sure?”
 
“Well…there’s only one way to find out.” Emily motioned for them to come inside. Laura slid from Abraham’s arms and climbed up onto her mother’s lap. “Emily said we got a letter from Luke!” Laura declared.
 
Abraham chuckled as he opened the envelope. “Oh, the old man forgot his spectacles,” Emily teased. “I don’t know how he’ll read it now!”
 
“I’m only 27, not 72!” Abraham declared!
 
“And he won’t be 27 until 5:05 tonight!” Ruth informed her daughter.
 
“Read the letter!” Laura exclaimed. “Read it!”
 
As the family gathered around, Abraham cleared his throat and read:
 
My family,
 
It is with a heavy heart and tears that I write this painful letter to you tonight. Today I buried a friend, and I feel as if I buried a part of myself with him. Mother, you’ve taught me so many things in life. But one thing I’ve never had to learn is how to make my heart go on when all I want to do is lay down and die. I’m sure you know by now that Andy died, and it pained me so much…I didn’t even feel like a man through the experience. I felt so very weak.
 
Andy died in my arms. He was shot during a battle we joined this morning. I was able to say goodbye, and Andy was so brave in the end. I heard his last request. I didn’t even ask the Captain for permission when I chose a spot to bury him and dug the grave. Johnny had to bury him because my heart just couldn’t bare it. Oh Mother, how do I tell my heart to keep on beating? When can I stop having to remind myself to breathe? When does it get easier?
 
Anyways, I just wanted to let you know, my family, that I’m okay physically. And I suppose that in a few days I’ll be okay on the inside too, but I will never understand why good people like Andy have to die. We’re breaking camp and moving out. I love you all so very, very much. Tell Laura I love her and to kiss it quick. I kiss her dollar every night before I go to sleep. I know that as long as I have that dollar, I can endure the hell of this Civil War for a little longer.
 
I best close for now. I need to write to Margaret before I turn in and I wanted to get the emotional stuff off my chest so that maybe I won’t cry so much when I write her letter. Please, please pray for me. I feel so discouraged and so lost right now.
 
Lucas
 
As Abraham read the letter to his family, not a dry eye could be found. They ached over the pain and agony they could feel in the words. The letter had been opened with tear-stained pages. Lucas cried out to his family, sharing with them his deep hurt in a way he couldn’t tell Margaret. After Abraham had folded the letter back up, there had been an eerie silence in the room. Abraham looked toward his sister Laura but couldn’t read the expression on her face. She had then stood up and walked out the door.
 
Worried that she was about to fall into an even deeper depression, Abraham followed her out the door. She walked around to the side of the house and stared at the place she and Lucas had said goodbye. From behind her, Abraham softly called. “Laura?” At the mere sound of his concerned voice, Laura ran to the log they had sat on together and got on her knees. She put her hands in her arms and began sobbing as she laid against the log. Abraham bent down behind her and allowed her to cry. Then he softly laid a hand on her little shoulder. “Laura…” His voice held much emotion.
 
“I don’t deserve his love! I don’t!” Laura choked on her tears. “I’ve been bad!”
 
Abraham picked the little girl up and forced her into his embrace. She struggled for just a moment then suddenly fell against him and cried even harder. When she was spent, she laid in his arms quietly. Abraham waited until he could trust his voice. “You have not been bad, Laura. You do deserve his love. Death…is hard for adults to understand, even more so for a seven year old little girl. He doesn’t blame you – he would never blame you.”
 
“I…I thought he was dead! I thought…” Laura spoke softly, still lying against her brother. “I gave up on him.”
 
“Hey now…” Abraham reached down and took her face in his hands. He pulled her away. “You were confused. We all needed to hear from Luke to know he was okay. You were just being a normal little girl. That’s all.” Abraham’s voice was soft as he spoke. His eyes were moist as he searched his sister’s face for understanding.
 
Laura lowered her eyes. “He said he kissed my dollar every night. I…” Laura closed her eyes and sniffed. “I don’t even have his anymore. I threw it away.”
 
“And I picked it up.” Abraham dug in his pocket and lifted the dollar out. “I put it in my pocket later that day and it stays there every single day. I’ve been waiting for you to ask for it back.”
 
“It’s the dollar Luke gave me?” Laura asked. “Honest? It’s Luke’s dollar?”
 
“Yep. It’s the very same one. I know because there…” Abraham pointed to a nick. “There is the nick that was in it.”
 
Laura gasped. She did remember it had a nick. She stared at the dollar then lifted her face to Abe’s. “You…you really think Luke forgives me?” Abraham nodded. Laura lifted the dollar to her lips and kissed it. Then she stuffed it into her pocket. “Now, let’s go wash your face, Laura!”
 
Laura smiled as she touched his bearded cheeks with her hands. “Rosebud to you, Abe!”
 
Abraham smiled and nodded his head. “Alright…Rosebud.”
 
***
 
Jennifer looked over at her daughter and watched her chew on her lip. She noticed Margaret again put her hand to the pocket of her dress and touch the letter. “Margaret….” Margaret looked up with a start. Jenny smiled weakly. Pain could still be seen in her face. Jennifer wasn’t only grieving for the death of her son, but also for the sudden loss of her husband who had allowed a darkness to enter his life. She shook her head gently. “Why don’t you go on into your room and read the letter?”
 
“Well, I…” Margaret studied the plate she had been drying. “I guess I’m afraid of what it’s going to say?”
 
“What are you afraid of it saying, darling?” Jenny asked as she turned to face her daughter. “That Andy really is gone? You already know that.”
 
“No. I…” Margaret swallowed as she sat down the dishtowel. “I guess I’m afraid of how it happened…of hearing that Andy just laid out on the battlefield and…”
 
“The telegram said he had a Christian burial, Margaret.” Jennifer tried to smile again, but didn’t quite make it. “I don’t think that happens too often during war, so that leads me to believe Luke was there.”
 
“Mama?” Margaret lifted her head. “Do you miss Pa?”
 
Any trace of a smile that remained in Jennifer’s eyes died. “Very, very much.”
 
“Are you angry with him for going away?” Jennifer didn’t answer, but merely nodded her head. “Suppose he was to come back home? Would you…” Margaret swallowed a lump in her throat. “Would you allow him back in?”
 
“Of course. He’s my husband but…” Jennifer looked toward the back door. “Your brother is the man of the house right now, and he told your father the conditions of his returning home. Your father isn’t interested.”
 
“Oh Mama…” Margaret lowered her head. “I saw him in town today. He looked so terrible! He doesn’t look like my father at all…I started talking to him and Scott ordered me away from him…I don’t understand.”
 
“Your brother was protecting you, honey. He may be a bit over-protective but…” Jennifer laid a hand on her daughter’s cheek. “It’s only because he loves you.” She took Margaret’s hands in hers. “Now…go read your letter.”
 
“Yes, Mama.” Margaret slowly made her way into the living room. Beth was quietly sewing. Her brothers were out doing the chores before they left for the party, so the house was very quiet. Margaret slipped into the bedroom she shared with Beth. Then she sat down in the cushioned chair near the window and slowly opened the letter. She saw that some of the words were smeared on the page as if Lucas had been crying while he wrote the letter. Margaret slowly drew her legs up under her and lay back on the cushioned chair to read his letter.
 
My Precious, sweet girl,
 
Oh, I love you so very, very much; but it’s with a very heavy heart that I write you tonight. This day has probably been one of the hardest days of my whole entire life. I cannot even describe to you how I feel tonight, but I can tell you that my heart is very, very heavy with emotion.
 
I’m sure that by the time you receive this letter you will be in the midst of your grief for Andy. Margaret, I saw him fighting. He was as brave a soldier as I ever saw. I ran to him when he went down and held his head in my lap as he lay dying. He was able to give me his last words and I wept as he took his last breath. I thought of you, honey. I thought of the pain you would feel. I thought of how…how…I had let you down…
 
Oh Margaret, I know you asked me to take care of Andy, and I know I’ve failed you. I’m so very, very sorry. Oh, here I go again…I thought my eyes were empty, yet here I go crying again. I’ll understand if you never forgive me. Oh, I wish I could take this day back! I’d die a thousand deaths to give Andy back to you.
 
After he died, I dug his gave myself. I buried him under a big oak tree not far from where he took his last breath. Johnny and I said the Lord’s Prayer over him. The Captain allowed some of the other men to stand over his grave as we said our last words. But…I couldn’t bury him, Margaret. My heart was so heavy and I was so grieved that I couldn’t bear to do the task. Johnny took care of it. The bugler played “Amazing Grace.”
 
We leave tomorrow to go further down south. Tomorrow I have to leave Andy behind. Oh, how do I do that? My feet will be heavy and my heart will be heavy but we’ve a job to do. I wish this war would end so I can come home to you, my sweet. I wish I could have been the one to tell you Andy had died. I wish I could have held you while you cried. I hated the fact that a cold telegram had to come to you and your family. How are you all coping? I hope you can forgive me!
 
I best close for now. I think of your beautiful face as I fall asleep tonight. I’ll remember your gentle, sweet smile and the feel of your lips as you kissed me. Perhaps those thought sill bring me peace. But I know that when I dream, your brother will be right there.
 
Oh, I just remembered Margaret. This morning, just before we went into battle Andy was thinking about Thanksgiving and how much he wanted to be there with you. His last thoughts were of you. In fact, your name, was mentioned in his dying words. He asked me to marry you.
 
Luke
 
***
Margaret read the letter through three times as tears fell from her eyes and onto the letter. She finally folded the letter and leaned her head back against the chair and closed her eyes as she remembered all the times she, Lucas, and Andy had spent together.
 
A hand gently touched her. Margaret jumped as she opened her eyes and lifted her head. “You should get ready for Abe’s party,” Jennifer whispered. “We have to leave soon”
 
She must have fallen asleep. The room was darker. Margaret noticed Beth already dressed. Margaret took the letter from her chest and handed it to her mother. “Here. I think this will bring you some comfort.”
 
Jennifer stared at the letter, and then sat it down. “I’ll read it later.” She quickly left the room.
 
***
“…Happy birthday to you!” Everyone clapped as Julie sat the chocolate cake down in front of her husband. “I’m sorry I couldn’t put 27 candles on it, but I was afraid of causing a fire,” Julie teased.
 
Abraham shook his head at Julie as Charlie sat on his lap. “Okay, son, you’re gonna have to help me. Remember how I showed you earlier?”
 
“Now!” Julie rolled her eyes. “You’ve been practicing! That’s not fair!” Abraham chuckled. Then he and Charlie both blew at the same time. There were ten candles and he was only able to blow out six of them. “Only four years of bad luck!” Julie declared.
 
Abraham gave her a weak smile. “As if we haven’t already had enough of that!” The room grew quiet. Julie cut the cake and served a small piece to everyone.
 
As they sat eating, Laura walked up to him. “Abe…I’m sorry I didn’t get ya anything.”
 
“Oh…” Abraham sat Charlie on the floor and sat Laura on his lap. “But you did, Rosebud. You gave me back your beautiful smile.” He hugged her to him. “That’s what I needed the most of all!”
Margaret slowly stood up and walked to the window. In time, Abraham walked up behind her. “Thinking about Luke?”
 
“No.” Margaret turned around and gave Abraham a weak smile. “Actually I was thinking about Pa. I had hoped he’d come.”
 
“He…wasn’t invited.” Abraham lifted his eyebrows when he got the annoyed look from Margaret. “Look…Uncle Sam is part of this family, but he’s going through some things right now, and they are things I don’t feel comfortable having around my family. Margaret, when Uncle Sam ain’t drunk, he’s bitter…very bitter.”
 
“He’s my father, Abe!” Margaret cried.
 
“Maybe he’ll be better by Christmas.”
 
Tiffany stood to help clear the table just then. But she fell to her knees on the floor. A plate shattered. Margaret and Abraham suddenly ran over to her. “Tiffany!” Peter grabbed her arm and helped her to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
 
“She’s having another spell,” Emily declared as she looked at Margaret.
 
Peter’s head shot around. He stared at his sister. “Another? What are you talking about?”
 
“Peter…it’s nothing…just a…” Peter shook his head.
 
Ruth stepped forward. “Tiffany dear, are you light headed? Feel like you could faint?” Tiffany nodded. “Nauseous? Deep inside?” Tiffany nodded again.
 
“For how long?” Peter asked worriedly.
 
“Just since yesterday. I’ve been feeling really tired for a week but…” she stopped when Peter rushed to get his hat and coat. “Where are you going?”
 
“I’m taking you to the doctor!” Peter declared. “You should have told me before!”
 
“Peter!” Ruth hurried forward and put a restraining hand on her arm. “I don’t think you need to rush out and get a doctor. A woman in her condition is expected to feel this way.”
 
“Her condition…” Peter mumbled. He was clueless as to what Ruth was talking about. “What condition?”
 
“She’s in the family way,” Ruth declared with a chuckle.
 
Tiffany stared at Ruth. “The fam…” Peter narrowed his eyes at his mother. “I still don’t…”
 
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Emily declared as she unfolded her arms and stepped toward her brother. “She’s pregnant!”
 
“Preg…” Peter’s face suddenly turned red as a deep blush covered his face. “No…she…she can’t be!” Peter declared.
 
“What?” Abraham asked suddenly.
 
“Peter!” Tiffany’s eyes grew wide.
 
“But…we’ve only been married six weeks!” Peter declared. “I mean…” Peter’s blush deepened. Jeremiah and Abraham both cracked up laughing at his response.
 
“Boys…” Ruth shook her head as she put an arm around Tiffany. “Now, six weeks is long enough to experience the symptoms my dear. And I’ve given birth to eight babies, so I know!”
 
Peter’s face had turned from red to white. “Uh…I think Peter better sit down!” Abraham declared as Scott shoved a chair under him and they lowered Peter into the chair. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say Peter was pregnant.”
 
“How…” Peter swallowed. “How did this happen?”
 
Abraham bent low and whispered something in his brother’s ear. Peter’s face once again blushed as his brother’s cackled over his response.
 
“You know, brother, I asked that question after the triplets were born and I didn’t like the response I got, so you best just accept, it’s because you’re married,” Abe laughed.
 
***
 
Margaret went to bed when she got home from the party, but she didn’t sleep. Lucas’s words echoed in her mind. She could feel his grief and sadness as he wrote that letter. She could only imagine how hard it was for Lucas to hold her brother while he died, then to bury him. Oh, if only she could have been there to help Lucas afterwards. If only he hadn’t had to grieve alone!
 
Margaret finally got out of bed and put on her robe. She took out her stationary, pen, and ink well and slowly made her way into the parlor. It was a room that was barely used, but today she would use it. Margaret lit the lantern, then sat down at the small desk and began writing to Lucas.
 
My Love,
 
I just received you letter. My heart aches for the grief you had to go through. I hope you were able to somehow put the grief behind you and move on as I have done. Lucas, Andy’s death was not your fault. I had no right to ask you to take care of Andy. At the moment, I guess I suspected what the outcome would be and just clung to anything I had. You were there. Please don’t blame yourself. I loved my brother and am still grieving, but we will move on as thousands of other families are doing.
 
Andy is in heaven with the Father. There is a verse in the Bible that says something like ‘Come ye who are burdened and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Have you gone to him, Luke? I will pray that God will speak to you, and that he will help you have peace over this tragic event. Oh, I pray for you and…Well, I was about to say Andy…I pray for you every morning when I wake up and every night before I go to sleep. Often, I say a prayer for you throughout the day when I feel burdened about you. My prayers will have to carry you through until you get home.
 
I don’t want to burden you with the effects Andy’s death has had on our family, but…I ask you to please write to Laura. This has affected her in ways that I can’t explain.  She loves you, and when you left, you left with Andy and Johnny. She just cannot picture in her mind that you can come back because she thinks you all have to come back – or none…So, please write her a letter. Give her some sort of assurance. You may be the only one who can reach her.
 
I don’t know where you are at or even if you can tell me right now. I do hope you can have some sort of happiness this Christmas. I tell you what, at 8:00 AM, I will be reading the Christmas story to my family just like Pa used to read it every year. You read your Christmas story from the Bible we sent you in the last care package. Read it from the heart and remember that it’s my gift to you. I will be sending you another package very soon, my sweet, and it will have something special in there for you. I DO hope you like it.
 
I love you, Luke.
 
Margaret
 
Margaret read through the letter and perfected the sentences. Then she slowly folded the letter and put it in the envelope. She kissed it then smiled. “I’m going to marry you. I am…just as soon as I can get you to ask me proper!”
***
 
The families continued to heal throughout December. Margaret returned to her daily visits with Abraham and Julie to assist with taking care of the children. The winter was so cold that Peter would often hitch up the team and drive Laura into school. Neither Ruth nor Emily wanted Laura to walk in the bitter cold, and the sky often looked like a storm was forming. There were many false alarms but no snow.
 
Peter was slowly adjusting to the announcement that he would be a father. He told Abraham he didn’t feel ready to be a father, but Abraham merely told him that was a responsibility he took on when he invited a woman into his bed. The doctor did confirm the pregnancy, and they tried to find joy in the news. The truth was neither Tiffany nor Peter were quite ready for the responsibility this news would entail, but Peter understood that was one of the consequences of the choice they had made on mischief night.
 
Samuel Gibbs wasn’t adjusting to Andy’s death. If anything, he was falling further into darkness. He was falling so deeply that there was little hope anyone could ever help him. He blamed himself for Andy’s death. Nobody understood how a man as strong as Samuel could suddenly fall so deep. Margaret would see her father every now and then as she went into town for supplies. She tried talking to him, but he would turn away.
 
She had to watch her mother sink deeper into her own despair. The death of Andy had hit her hard, but Samuel’s actions were worse than Andy’s death. Jennifer started feeling more and more rejected and lonely, and though she carried on the day to day functions, Margaret sensed the hurt and despair in her mother.
 
The month of December slowly passed. There was no word from Lucas, but that was to be expected in winter. The East, where the men were fighting, was having a terrible winter; and the family suspected there wasn’t much of a chance for fighting during such wintery conditions so they relaxed a bit.
 
Margaret waited for Christmas with anticipation. As she helped Julie, they discussed Christmas plans. But she worried that no one in her household had even bothered to bring the coming Holiday up. Finally at supper one night, Margaret brought the subject up. “When are we getting the Christmas tree?”
 
Scott sucked in his breath, but didn’t say a word as he stared down at the food on his plate. He slowly took a bite of food before lifting his head to look at her. “We won’t have one this year, sis.” The tone of voice he used made Margaret believe his announcement was final.
 
“Why not?” Margaret suddenly asked. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She couldn’t bear the thought of not celebrating it.
 
“Margaret, Pa and Andy always got the tree. I don’t think…”
 
“Andy would want us to have a tree this year as well!” Margaret suddenly declared with a lift of her chin. Scott shook his head. “It’s Christmas! I always went with Pa and Andy to get the tree, remember?”
 
“I’m sorry, sis…”
 
Margaret turned to her mother. “Ma?”
 
Jennifer lowered her head. “I don’t much feel like celebrating this year, Margaret. Let’s just…skip Christmas.”
 
“Skip…” Margaret paused. She sat down her fork and sat back in her chair as she closed her eyes to gain strength. “Mother, this is Jesus’ birthday! This is the day we celebrate the precious gift God gave us so long ago…His son who would make the ultimate sacrifice for us – to die in our place…” There was a bitter silence around the table now. Margaret felt her heart skip a beat as she looked from Scott to her mother. “Andy did that in a way, you know. He died for us so we could live in the United States of America. You can’t just…”
 
“Margaret…” Margaret’s eyes filled up with tears when she saw the stern expression on her brother’s face.
 
She slowly stood up, trying to keep her emotions under control. “We celebrated Abraham’s birthday.”
 
“It’s not the same and you know it,” Scott said quietly…too quietly.
 
“No. It’s not the same. The birth of Christ was very important. At Christmas we remember it. Not celebrating it is…” Margaret stood up. “I can’t believe…”
 
“That’s enough, Margaret!” Scott allowed his coffee cup to hit the table harder than he meant.
 
Margaret turned and looked at her mother. Jennifer turned her head and put her hand to her mouth. Margaret stared at her mother, realizing for the first time just how old her mother looked. So many burdens were on her shoulders. Not only was she still trying to come to terms with the fact that Andy was gone, but she was trying to desperately wrap her finger around the fact that her husband had simply walked out.
 
“Oh…I’m sorry, Mother!” Margaret ran to her. “I just want us to be happy. I want…”
 
Jennifer stood up. “I’m tired. I must lay down.” Margaret lowered her head as her eyes filled with tears. Jennifer kissed her cheek. “Could you clean up for me?” Margaret nodded silently and watched her mother disappear into the bedroom.
 
She turned and began clearing the dishes. Scott turned and without saying a word walked out the door to work on chores. Johnny stood and started to walk outside. “I’m headed to Charlie’s house. I’m gonna watch him break more horses.”
 
“Again?” Margaret sighed. “Johnny…with Andy and Pa gone Scott’s having to do some work that’s really hard for him. I wish you would…”
 
“Look, sis…I didn’t ask Pa to leave!” Johnny shouted as he hurried out the door.
 
Margaret turned around and looked at her sister. Beth stood up and quickly went to her room. The door closed firmly behind her. Margaret lowered her head and looked down at the dirty dishes in her hands. Then she slowly sat them down, sat down in a chair, and sobbed.
 
***
 
Dear Lucas,
 
Christmas is Friday, but I feel it’s going to just quietly slip by this year. I thought things were getting better; but suddenly I’m watching things slowly come apart. I wanted to have a Christmas tree and mentioned it at the table tonight, but mother and Andy both said no. I watched our family unravel into isolation after that.
 
There’s something I should have told you. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you but…Father is gone. He left on Thanksgiving Day shortly after receiving the telegram. He’s been in town drinking a lot and…Well…it’s tearing my mother apart. I want so badly to keep my family together but I don’t know how to. Oh Luke…what do I do? How do I convince everyone that we MUST go on as a family?
 
I want to go cut down the tree myself. I want to bring Christmas back to the Gibbs family. How do I do it? Oh, I know by the time you get this letter it’ll be too late but…I had to tell someone my frustrations.
 
Mother stays in her room most of the time. Scott is trying to do work that is hard for him in his condition; Johnny…he thinks of little more than horse-breaking and tricks these days. And Beth…Well, she’s always been reserved, but she’s so much worse now.
 
How do I get through to them, Lucas? How did a whole family seem to suddenly tear apart in one afternoon? At the table, we were laughing and joking like always; then the next thing I knew…we were no longer talking to each other…I know it’s more Pa’s leaving then Andy’s death. We can get over a death…try to make some sense over it. But how do you deal with a loss of a person that’s neither dead nor alive? How do we wrap our senses around this?
 
I need Christmas, Luke. Oh, I need it so bad. What do I do?
 
Margaret
 
***
 
Julie shook her head Tuesday morning when Charlie again begged to go out to the barn with Pa. Julie grabbed the cloth and again ran it under his nose. “Not when you have the sniffles. It’s too cold outside. I’m sorry.”
 
Charlie, at the age of 18 months was just learning to talk and how to throw fits. He was also quickly learning that when his father was around, he didn’t do such a thing. But his father wasn’t there so he proceeded to sit down on the floor and cry as hard as he could. “Go with Pa!”
 
Baby Samuel heard the commotion from the cradle and woke up screaming. Julie sat the oatmeal on the table then ran to the cradle and picked him up. Abraham walked in. “Hey, look who I…” He stopped when he saw the commotion in his house. “What now?” he asked Julie.
 
“I told him he couldn’t go outside with you because he had the sniffles.” Julie bounced Baby Samuel on her one hip while she put Baby David on the other.
 
Margaret walked inside them. “I’m…sorry I’m so early. I just needed…” Suddenly, Margaret burst into tears. Julie gave Abraham the two boys that were in her arms and hurried over to Margaret. She took Margaret in her arms and let her cry. Then she slowly led her to the bedroom and closed the door. “What is it? Are you worried about Luke?”
 
“No…” Margaret took the handkerchief handed to her and wiped her nose. “It’s my family. Oh Julie…Ma is falling into a depression that I can’t seem to shake. Last night I merely mentioned a Christmas tree and she went to bed. She won’t get up this morning! She was crying as she clung to Pa’s pillow and begged me to go away. Scott…he’s working so hard. His back and leg are hurting him so bad he could hardly stand this morning, but he said he had a whole other day of branding and he couldn’t rest. Having to put all his weight on his good leg has just about done him in and he’s killing himself! And Beth…she won’t talk to anybody! Johnny is being so defiant. He refuses to do much work on the ranch – just wants to practice his roping cattle and such foolishness.”
 
Margaret finally took gasps of breath to calm herself down. Julie listened quietly. “I think my husband needs to know how bad things are. We have to do something to pull your family out of this despair.” Julie called for Abraham. Abraham came into the room. He announced he had managed to calm down the babies for the time being and had Charlie attempting to feed himself at the table. “Abe, we have a problem. She proceeded to tell Abraham everything Margaret had told her.
 
Abraham folded his arms and began pacing the floor. “Well...I had no idea things were so bad.”
 
“They weren’t…at least I didn’t notice until…” Margaret lowered her head as tears filled her eyes again.
 
“Until what?” Abraham asked as he bent down in front of her.
 
“I asked when we were going to get the tree for Christmas. Scott told me that…that…we weren’t going to celebrate Christmas this year.” Julie gasped and put an arm around Margaret’s shoulders. They heard a crash in the other room. Margaret wiped her eyes and stood. “I’ll go check.”
 
After the bedroom door closed, Julie stood up and folded her arms. She slowly walked over to the window and stared outside. “Oh Abe…when did it all get so…bad? This family’s so broken.”
 
“I know.” Abraham heaved a big sigh. “I want to choke Uncle Sam for what he’s putting this family through! How could a man who’s always been there for his family suddenly…”
 
“They can’t skip Christmas…” Julie mumbled. “Abe…”
 
“No!” Abraham held up his hand as he walked towards her. “Absolutely not!”
 
“What?” Julie asked as she lifted her hands to her shoulders and shrugged innocently.
 
“I know how you think, my sweet. You are NOT to interfere!”
 
“Abe, we can’t just stand by and…” Julie shook her head. “They HAVE to have Christmas!”
 
“And we have to respect Scott’s wishes!” Abraham declared. “With Samuel gone, Scott makes the choices for his family.”
 
Julie folded her arms. “Now Abe…suppose you made such a ridiculous demand like that in this house? You think I…your submissive wife…would stand back and allow that to happen?”
 
Abraham scratched his head and cringed. “No, my Darling. I cringe to think of the wrath I would suffer, but…” Abraham laid his hands on her shoulders. “I’m going to talk to the family. I’ll talk to Scott and see why he’s having to work so hard. I’ll talk to Johnny…maybe a trip to the barn for HIM is in order…I’ll talk to Uncle Sam too. Maybe a swift kick in the pants is in order.”
 
“Uncle Sam…” Julie shook her head. “Abe, I never would have imagined…”
 
“I know.” Abraham kissed her. “But let’s try to convince them they need Christmas…subtly.”
 
Abraham turned and walked into the family room. He saw Margaret helping Charlie patiently eat while she held two babies on her lap and proceeded to feed them a bit of cereal. “How DOES she do that?” Abraham asked.
 
“Hm…” Julie smiled as her husband put on his coat. “I don’t know, but she’ll make a wonderful mother some day!”
 
“Yes she would.” Abraham bent down and kissed Julie goodbye. “You know…I think she’d be a perfect mother for twins…I picture her and Luke having a whole bundle of children – and they are all as rotten as Luke!” He chuckled as he hurried out the door.
 
Julie wasn’t one to go against her husband. She was usually a pretty submissive wife, though at times she would put down her foot and tell Abraham he was wrong. But she was also a wise wife. She chose her battles carefully, and though this is a battle she chose to fight, she felt the best strategy was to surprise attack the enemy. And she must be sure exactly who her allies were. Right now, she was pretty sure Abraham wasn’t one of them.
 
She picked up the Adam from the last cradle and held him tight. “Margaret, we best get to work. We’ve Christmas Eve to plan.”
 
Margaret smiled her agreement. She had been thinking on that very thing.
 
***
 
Abraham slammed through the doors of the saloon and looked around. “Abe…would you like an early morning beer?” the bartender asked. “I’m not open yet but…”
 
“No.” Abraham looked around. “I’m looking for Uncle Sam.”
 
“Oh.” The bartender went back to lowering the chairs from the table.
 
Abraham saw the hesitation on the bar tender’s face. “Alright. Where is he?”
 
“He?”
 
“Uncle Sam.”
 
“Oh.” He stood up straight and turned to face Abraham. “Down the street.”
 
“At the hotel?”
 
“At the jail.”
 
“The jail?” Abraham’s voice went up. “What’s he doing in jail?”
 
“He was drunk last night, Abraham. He…crashed up this place pretty bad. We had to close early and the Marshal threw him in jail to sober him. He should be sober by now.”
 
Abraham hurried over to the jail. “Abe…” Marshal Williams nodded at him.
 
Abraham nodded as he took his hat off, but didn’t stop as he walked toward the jail. The Marshal unlocked the door and allowed him to walk inside. He found Samuel sitting on the cot with his head in his hands. “He can leave as far as I’m concerned. But if he ever does anything like this again…”
 
“Go away, Abe.” Samuel’s voice sounded lost and so far away. “Go away.”
 
Abraham walked up to the cell and put his hands on the bars. “I can’t do that, Sam. You’re needed at home.”
 
“I can’t.”
 
Abraham just stared at the man in the cell. “I’ll see that Ike is paid for the damages.” Abraham grabbed Samuel’s arm. “Let’s go.”
 
“No! I ain’t…” Samuel started.
 
But Abraham grabbed Samuel by the shirt and lifted him off the cot. He slammed him hard against the wall. “Now you listen to me, SAMUEL! As long as you are treating your family this way, I will give YOU the orders! Do you know that your wife is so distraught that she won’t even get out of bed? Do you know that Scott is working himself to death on the ranch? Do you know that Johnny is defying his whole family and spending all his time learning to do fancy tricks and break horses?”
 
Samuel’s face slowly relaxed. His frown deepened as he stared at Abraham. “I’m…sorry for what my family’s going through. I’m sorry that I was the cause of it.” Samuel shook his head as he lowered it. “But I can’t go back. I can’t.”
 
Abraham clinched his lips together as he stared even harder at Samuel. “You’re right!” he answered as he twisted Samuel’s shirt even tighter. “You’re right, you ARE the cause of this because you walked out when things got rough!”
 
“I walked out because I killed my boy!” Samuel’s voice roared.
 
“Oh, come on man!” Abraham roared as he pushed harder against Samuel. “Andy’s death was NOT your fault! Andy CHOSE to go to war! He CHOSE to fight. He knew the risks!”
 
“No.” Samuel shook his head. “You’re wrong!”
 
“So you think staying away from your family – shaming them like this while you spend their money on booze and God knows what else is helping them?” Abraham shouted. “Your daughter showed up at MY house this morning in tears because her family doesn’t want to have Christmas. Her heart is broken.”
 
Samuel’s expression again softened. “I’m sorry about that. What do you want me to do?”
 
“Go home and TRY to put your family back together.”
 
“No. I can’t. I just…can’t!”
 
Abraham and Samuel just stood face-to-face staring at each other. “What is wrong with you??? Is your guilt so deep that it’s blinding you to the truth? Are you mourning so deeply for the ONE who’s dead that you don’t care about the five living, breathing around you that you are slowly killing????”
 
Samuel grabbed Abraham’s hands and shoved them away. “Get out, Abe. Get out.”
 
Abraham didn’t say a word but turned and walked out the door. He saw Johnny down the street. Johnny was getting ready to go with some friends to learn some more cattle tricks. Abraham clinched his lips together and hurried up to Johnny. “I want you at home helping your brother at the ranch.”
 
Johnny turned and stared at Abraham. “I don’t want to.”
 
Abraham grabbed his arm so hard that Johnny flinched. “I wasn’t asking. That was an order!” he declared as he roughly led Johnny to his horse. “Now…I’m on my way to your house. When I get there, you BETTER be doing EXACTLY what Scott tells you to. If you don’t, I will tan your hide!”
 
Johnny didn’t say another word, but simply mounted his horse and rode off towards home.
 
***
 
Margaret stopped and watched the two foxes scurry and play at the edge of the woods. They looked so peaceful – not a care in the world. She had had a good cry with Julie and felt a bit more relieved now, but she wasn’t as free as those foxes were. She walked closer and laughed as one toppled on top of the other. They fell backwards and slid across the icy pond, trying to find their way back to the firm ground.
 
“Margaret.” Margaret turned to see Abraham dismounting his horse. “Hi.”
 
“I’m just on my way home.” She paused as they watched the two. “I was thinking about Andy. We used to play like that when we were little. I remember…”
 
“Margaret…it’s best not to dwell on that. We can’t undo what’s done.”
 
“I know…” Margaret sighed as she sat down on the rock and pulled her coat a bit tighter around her.
 
 Abraham sat down right beside her. “You shouldn’t be out in the cold.”
 
“Which tree would make a good Christmas tree?” Margaret asked as she looked around the woods at the tall trees. She pointed to a tall one. “I think I like that one.”
 
“I just came from your place.” Abraham sighed. “I don’t know how much good I’ve done. Your mother just sat at the table and stared into her coffee cup the whole time I talked to her. Scott has the weight of the world on his shoulders. I’ve…convinced him to slow down a bit. Johnny will be doing his chores. I made sure Scott gave him plenty to keep him busy. I also gave those two ranch hands a firm lecture. I’ll keep a close eye on them.”
 
“I want Johnny to finish school, Abe.”
 
“I know.” Abraham nodded. “We’ll discuss that when school picks back up in January.” Abraham sighed. “I’m afraid you won’t need a Christmas tree this year.”
 
“Oh, but you’re wrong, Abe! This year, we NEED a Christmas tree! It’s as important as having water on a hot day. There’s no other way.”
 
“Margaret, you can’t…”
 
Margaret suddenly stood up. She straightened herself out to as tall as she could get and lifted her head. “I CAN…and I WILL!” Abraham lifted an eyebrow and looked up at her. “…even if I have to chop the tree down myself!”
 
Abraham slowly put his hands on his hips. “You know…I think you’re stubborn and determined enough to try it!” he declared with a nod of his head. Margaret just stared at him. “Scott and your mother are in charge of your household now, and they’ve made the decision,” Abraham pointed out. “Their decision was pretty firm.”
 
Margaret folded her arm and nodded. “And you’re going to discuss with me about how wives…or in my case sisters, should be submissive to their husbands…brothers.” Abraham didn’t say anything. “I agree with that verse, but I don’t believe we should allow submission to blind us to the truth. You and I both know that not celebrating Christmas isn’t the answer.” Margaret hurried toward Abraham. “Oh Abe, we need this Christmas! It’s necessary! I’ve been thinking on it and talking to Julie about it. I…” She stopped when she saw Abraham’s eyes narrow. “What would you think if Julie just stood by and allowed you to ‘make’ your family skip Christmas?’”
 
He rubbed a hand to the back of his neck. “Well…I don’t think this is a good idea, but…okay.” Abraham turned to mount his horse. “When do you want it cut and delivered?”
 
“Thursday evening will be perfect!” Margaret smiled as Abraham picked up the reins to his horse. “Oh, and Julie will fill you in on the details!”
 
“Yes.” Abraham nodded. “I’m sure she will.” Abraham raised his eyebrows at her again. “I certainly hope you know what you are doing. I hate to see things get worse.”
 
“I know.” Margaret nodded. “In my heart…I know.” She smiled as she watched Abraham slowly ride away.
 
***
 
The next morning, Margaret asked Scott to ride her into town. Scott agreed, but before he left he told Johnny to go check on the cattle out on the range. Johnny grumbled a bit, but remembered the hard lecture he had received from Abraham when Abraham had arrived at the ranch the day before. Abraham had performed his “brotherly” lecture in the barn and threatened that the next time he’d be using more than words to get his point across.
 
Margaret was quiet on their way into town. She was thinking about all she had to do to get ready for Christmas Eve celebration they would have, followed by the celebration on Christmas morning. Scott cleared his throat to break the silence. “Honey, I’m sorry about Christmas.”
 
“We need it, Scott. We need it more than ever this year.”
 
Scott didn’t speak. He just stared at the road in front of them. “Things seemed to change so fast. I don’t quite understand…”
 
“Why’s Pa doing this?” Margaret suddenly asked. “He’s always been so loving and strong. What made him change?”
 
Scott sighed. “I’m not quite sure. Losing a son is devastating. I mean, Pa watched him grow from a baby into a man. He had so many hopes for Andy. Of the three of us boys, Andy was the one Pa thought would take over the ranch some day. Andy always had an understanding for what was needed on the ranch, and he had the passion for it. And Pa feels guilty for sending Andy off to war.” Scott heard Margaret sigh beside him. “Guilt can be a terrible thing, honey. It can tear a man apart.”
 
“Then you see why we need Christmas! We must find some sense of…”
 
“Margaret…” Scott heaved a long, sad sigh. “Let’s not go through it again.”
 
Margaret stayed quiet for the remainder of the trip. She didn’t say another word about Christmas, but she prayed that what she had to do would give her family the necessary Christmas they needed.
 
That morning, Margaret purchased several items she would need in the store. She waited in anticipation for Thursday morning to come. She had made arrangements for her mother and Beth to go visit the McCain farm. They would stay through the afternoon, and Peter would ride them home that evening. When they arrived, everything would be ready.
 
As Margaret was walking out the door, she saw Samuel sitting in a chair outside the hotel. Margaret slowly made her way across the street and sat down beside him. “Hello, Papa.”
 
Samuel slowly turned his head. His eyes frowned as he looked at his daughter. “Oh Margaret…” For a minute, it looked like he was going to cry. His eyes grew very moist as he laid a hand on his daughter’s cheek. “Margaret…”
 
Margaret could smell the liquor on his breath. His skin reeked of the stuff. “Papa…oh Papa…” Margaret grabbed his hand. “What’s happened to you, Papa? Mama misses you so much. We all miss you…”
 
“I miss…” Samuel stopped speaking. He couldn’t go on.
 
“Come home.” Margaret’s voice pleaded. She just stared at him, waiting for his answer.
 
Samuel’s eyes grew wide as he saw the tears in his daughter’s eyes. He clinched his lips together then lowered his head. “I…can’t.”
 
“Yes, Papa…You CAN! You CAN!” Margaret declared. “We all want you there!”
 
“I can’t! I can’t!” Samuel stood up.
 
“Pa, we’re having Christmas Eve tomorrow night at six o’clock. Please…come.”
 
Samuel turned from her and hurried away. Margaret threw a hand to her mouth as her eyes filled with tears. “God, help him. Help my Papa!”
 
That evening, Margaret opened her journal.
 
I’ve made a decision that goes against my family’s wishes earlier this week. But today my family is suffering so deeply. They need a bandage for their wounds, and I believe with all my heart I have just the cure. I’ve prayed and asked God to give me strength and wisdom, and I know He will because I feel so at peace with my decision.
 
The past years, I’ve worked alongside Ma to get our Christmas ready, and it’s always been such a festival. We decorate the whole house, have a big tree with presents under it, and have a big meal. Christmas eve, the entire McCain family joins us; then on Christmas day it’s just us.
 
Oh, I want this to be so special. I want Pa to be here too. That would be a Christmas miracle and I know it can happen. I know Pa is full of bitterness, and Ma is slowly dying for what he’s done to her but…Oh, I just can’t help but think that things can get better. Christmas is such a special time of year.
 
 ***
 
Margaret started cleaning up the breakfast dishes that Thursday morning. “Johnny and I will be out with the herd all day, Margaret. Don’t expect us back until supper.” Margaret nodded as Scott walked out the door to take his mother and sister to the McCain farm. Margaret picked up two dirty plates and hurried over to the window. She watched the wagon disappear around the corner and saw her brother heading out to the range. With a smile, Margaret hurried to clean the dishes.
 
After the dishes were done, she was rolling out some dough when she heard a knock at the door. Peter stepped inside. “Abraham told me to deliver this tree.”
 
“YES!” Margaret declared. She threw her hands to her mouth when Emily and Laura walked in. “We’re all that can be spared today.”
 
Peter worked at setting the tree up. Emily and Margaret both kept shaking their head at its position, but it was finally in the perfect spot. “Abraham also told me not to dawdle. We’ve work waiting at the farm.”
 
“Alright, but have everyone here by six!” Margaret ordered.
 
“Right.” Peter shook his head. “Margaret…I hope you’re doing the right thing.”
 
“I am.” Margaret smiled. “I know I am.”
 
She watched Peter leave, then turned around and clapped her hands. “Alright ladies, let’s get to work!”
 
Margaret sat Laura at the table and put her to work making decorations for the house and tree. Emily and Margaret worked on baking and putting the candles on the tree, which would be lit just before the family arrived. They hardly took time out for lunch before they sat to work again. Margaret was growing nervous as the afternoon progressed.
 
At three o’clock, Abraham and Julie arrived with their children. Laura anxiously showed them what she had been working on all day. Abraham smiled as he took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Margaret. “Merry Christmas, honey.” Margaret stared at the envelope. It was from Lucas.
 
“Jeremiah’s on his way over here and we’ll get the room set up. Why don’t you go read that. I think you need it right now.”
 
“Well, I…” Margaret looked around. She only had a couple hours to get everything ready.
 
“Go on, Margaret.” Emily hugged her. “You need a good word from Lucas.”
 
“How do I know it’s good?” Margaret asked.
 
Abraham smiled. “It’s good. He told me in a separate letter it was good and to give it to you at Christmas.”
 
Margaret turned and walked into the parlor. It wasn’t until she was sitting in the chair with her feet under her that she opened the letter and read the words Lucas had to say:
 
My Dearest Margaret,
 
Oh, how I wish I could be there with you tonight as you celebrate Christmas Eve. It’s always been a wonderful experience for me. It hurts me so much that Andy won’t be there – and we’ll never be able to celebrate another Christmas together, but I know he’s in Heaven watching down on us right now. He’ll be there in your hearts and memories and you can dwell on the good times that we all shared in the past.
 
Margaret, I’ll be there as well. No matter what I’m doing on Christmas Eve, I’ll be sitting right beside you holding your hand. I’ll be there giving your hand a squeeze every once in a while. I’ll watch your smile on your rosy cheeks as you enjoy your favorite time of year. Christmas Eve at the Gibbs has always been great. For as long as I can remember you’ve always been right in the middle of the work planning and decorating.
 
In fact, I’m thinking of when you were seven years old. You made so many homemade decorations that your Ma said there wasn’t room for them all. I was there helping Uncle Sam get things ready and saw your bottom lip start to quiver. My brother Abe said we’d put the rest on our tree and you smiled. Oh, but it only seems like yesterday, yet that was eleven years ago.
 
I know you will make this year as special as the rest. I can only imagine how hard you’ll work on your house once you have one of your own. I’m sure Christmas will be pouring out!
 
Well, I’ll close for now. I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas. I wish I were there with you.
 
Lucas
 
Margaret wiped her eyes and slid the letter back into the envelope. She put the letter in her pocket and hurried back into the kitchen where Julie and Em were putting finishing touches on supper. She hurried in to study the tree and smiled. “It’s beautiful!” she declared as she hugged Laura toward her. “It’s simply beautiful!”
 
Laura smiled, but her smile started to die when she saw Margaret’s eyes suddenly grow wide and fill with tears. Laura turned and studied the tree. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked.
 
Margaret realized she was crying again and wiped her eyes. “Oh no, Laura!” Margaret bent down beside her. “The angel…I hadn’t seen it in years. Where did you find it?”
 
“It was sitting there…on the hearth,” Laura pointed toward the fireplace.
 
Margaret gently touched the angel hanging on the tree. Andy had made it for her a long time ago. She was only six years old that year. She had felt a bit down so Andy chose that as his special project to make in school. It had been made with such love and care. “We lost it when I was eight. We looked for it everywhere and could never find it.”
 
Laura wrinkled up her nose in confusion. “Then where did it come from?”
 
Margaret lifted her head and looked over at Abraham and Julie who were working on putting chairs around the table. “I don’t know…”
 
Julie smiled as she walked over to the girls. “It’s a Christmas miracle. Maybe it holds the key, Margaret.”
 
They heard a wagon pull up outside. Julie went to look out the window. “It’s your mother and sister.” Margaret stood up and wiped her eyes. Then she walked to stand between the tables and folded her hands in front of her. The door opened. When Jennifer saw the room, her smile died. She looked at the table with some food already on it. Then she looked at the tree. She turned and looked at the decorated table with the chairs. “I thought we decided not to have Christmas this year,” Jennifer said in a reserved voice.
 
“No. You and Scott said you didn’t want a Christmas. Beth, Johnny, and I never said a word.” Jennifer frowned as she stared at the table. “Oh Mother…” Margaret hurried up to her and grabbed her hands. “Mother…we have to start living again!”
 
“Margaret!” Margaret turned to see Scott standing on the other side of the room. He and Johnny must have come in the back. He slowly walked up to her. “I can’t believe you defied me like this!”
 
Margaret said nothing, but simply looked at her brother. Johnny’s eyes filled with tears as he looked around at the festivities. “It’s like…” he swallowed hard as emotions overcame him. “…like before…”
 
“How could you do this?” Scott asked again. “How? I told you we were in no mood to celebrate! You had NO right!”
 
Margaret sighed as she walked over to the table and picked up the Bible. She looked down at it and began reading the words. The room suddenly grew quiet as her tearful voice grew stronger. The Christmas story had always been read by Samuel Gibbs, but this year Margaret took pride to read the special words herself. When she finished, the room was quiet.
 
Suddenly, Laura grabbed Jennifer’s hand and led her to the tree. “Look! An angel!”
 
Jennifer fell to her knees as she removed the ornament from the tree. She sat down and pressed the angel to her chest. “It was years ago…” she said in a quiet voice. “…One Christmas Andy came home from school with this angel. We hung it on the tree for two Christmas’s, but them it disappeared. We looked everywhere for it that third Christmas, but it just wasn’t….” She grew quiet as tears fell down her cheeks. “Where did you find it?”
 
“Over there!” Laura pointed toward the hearth. “It was sitting in the corner.” Laura hurried over to pat the spot she found it.
 
“Mother!” Beth suddenly threw a hand to her mouth. “Mother…” Her words died in her throat.
 
“That’s where Andy always sat to hear the Christmas story,” Scott whispered as he hurried to his mother and looked at the angel. “That is Andy’s Angel! Look, it even has the paste smeared all over the wing. Remember how I riled him about…”
 
The door opened. Everyone turned to stare at the intruder. A tall man stood in the doorway. His face now had a beard and he looked old, but there was no mistaking who it was. “Papa!” Margaret ran and threw her arms around him. He returned her hug and kissed her cheek. “Oh Papa!”
 
“Look, Pa.” Beth took the angel from Scott and walked over to Samuel. “Look at the angel Laura found. It was sitting in Andy’s spot on the hearth.”
 
“Andy’s…” Samuel’s shaky hand reached out and touched the angel. His eyes suddenly filled with tears. He hugged his daughters close to him as he allowed the tears to come.
 
“He’s here!” Margaret whispered. “Andy’s here!”
 
The McCain’s stood back and watched the family embrace. Laura sat down on the hearth and started crying. Abraham saw her and slowly sat Charlie down. He walked over to the hearth and sat down next to Laura. He gently put a hand under her chin and lifted her face. “Why are you crying?”
 
“I did something bad! I thought they’d like the angel!”
 
“Oh, they do, Laura! They really like the angel!” Abraham declared.
 
“No!” Laura pointed. “They’re crying!”
 
Abraham picked Laura up and sat her on his lap. He cuddled her close to him. “They are crying over the Christmas miracle, honey. That angel was lost a long time ago and just appeared. It’s a message to us that Andy will ALWAYS be with us…” Abraham tapped Laura’s chest over her heart. “…in here. Andy lives in here.”
 
Abraham pressed his sister against him as they studied the family. Samuel hugged his wife and put his arms around his daughters. Johnny and Scott stood off a bit, still unsure of what to think.  But their eyes held a peace. Julie walked over to sit down beside her husband. “You think things will be better now?”
 
“I don’t know, Abraham answered. “But I think they needed this Christmas. I think Margaret was right. It was necessary.”
 
Jennifer wiped her eyes and turned. “Well…why don’t we all sit down at the table?”
 
When everyone was seated, they realized two extra places had been set. Several pairs of eyes stared at the empty places. Those are for Andy and Luke. Luke told me earlier he’d be here in spirit thinking about us and Andy…well, I think we know he’s here.” Margaret smiled as she looked at her family. “I’m so glad you are all here!”
 
Abraham led the family in prayer. As they sat eating Margaret’s pumpkin pie, Samuel softly spoke to his sons. “I’m not back. I can’t live here…not now, but…I have my responsibilities of helping out on the ranch and I will. If it’s alright with you, I can stay in the bunk house with the hired hands. And I’ll put in my fair share of the work.”
 
Scott grew quiet as he nibbled on his dessert. He looked at Johnny, then Abraham who sat close by listening. “Alright, Pa. But you must behave yourself. You can stay in the bunk house as long as you don’t drink.”
 
Abraham could tell how much his words cost him, but there was only so much Scott could do. He needed his father’s help, but he had to protect his family as well. Hurt came over Samuel’s face. Then he nodded in agreement. “Alright, son. I’ll do my best.” Samuel stood up. “The meal was very good, daughter. I thank you for inviting me.”
 
“You’re not leaving…” Jennifer asked as she stood from the table.
 
Samuel was half-way toward the door. He turned and looked at Jennifer. He pressed a hand to her cheek. “I’m sorry I’ve hurt you. I’ll be staying in the bunk house. I know I’m a disappointment to you, but I will…try…to put in my time on the ranch.”
 
“Why won’t you come home?” Jennifer asked.
 
“I…can’t!” Samuel answered. “The day…” Samuel swallowed as he shook his head. “Something inside me died that day. It’s gone and I can’t find it. I don’t know what…or why…but I can’t come home and pretend everything’s okay. But I will be here. I will.”
 
They watched as Samuel picked up his hat and slowly walked out. The room grew very quiet as Jennifer slowly turned around. She smiled at her family. “Well…” She walked up to Margaret. “I thank you for putting life back into our family. I think all of you for being here.”
 
Margaret hugged her mother. “Are we ready?”
 
“Ready?”
 
“Well…We lost another special person this year as well.” Margaret turned and looked at Abraham. “We lost Uncle Marcus. She turned to smile at her mother. “You…do remember what Uncle Marcus always did!”
 
“The Night Before Christmas!” Johnny declared as he looked at Laura.
 
“Yes.” Margaret looked toward Abraham and smiled. “And this year, Abraham has the honors.”
 
Abraham started to speak but looked down as Laura sniffed. He clung to her and kissed her on top of the head. “When Julie asked me to do this two days ago, I…wasn’t sure if I could. But after witnessing this Christmas miracle, I’ll try to do it with the same feeling and emotions Pa always did.”
 
“Oh Papa!” Laura sniffed as she buried her face into Abraham’s chest.
 
Abraham lifted her head and smiled into her eyes. “Twas…the night before Christmas when ALL through the house…” He smiled as he looked up at those now gathered around him on the floor. “Not a creature was stirring…not even…” His voice grew really quiet. “…a mouse!”
 
Laura smiled as he tickled her gently. She cozied up next to him as Charlie climbed up onto Abraham’s other knee. Abraham recited the entire story with much emotion and feeling.
 
Julie sat on the hearth beside her husband. Baby Sammy was sitting on her lap. She smiled as she stared into her husband’s face.
 
Emily sat on the floor holding Adam who was making goo-goo noises and playing with her hand. Jeremiah sat on the floor and Em sat in front of him as she leaned back against him. Jeremiah drew his arms around her as Abraham spoke. Tiffany sat down beside her husband on the floor. Peter took her hand in his and squeezed it as they listened.
 
Margaret stared at Abraham from her place on the floor. Last year, she and Luke had sat together smiling as Marcus had spoken the words. Beth sat next to her. Relief was in her eyes as she stared at Abraham. Ruth and Jennifer sat in their chairs at the table. Baby David sat on Ruth’s lap playing with a spoon as Abraham spoke. Ruth and Jennifer smiled at their family. They watched the expressions on their children’s faces as Abraham spoke.
 
“Merry Christmas to all…” Abraham suddenly boomed out. “…and to all…a good night.”
 
The room grew quiet as Abraham finished up his story. He bent over and kissed his wife softly. Then he looked down at his charges on his lap. Charlie suddenly started clapping excitedly. “Again, Papa! Again!”
 
Everyone in the room started laughing. Margaret wiped the tears from her face and cleared her throat. In her beautiful voice, she began singing “Silent Night.” The others joined in with her and soon the house was filled with melodies of Christmas.
 
The family stayed and sung way into the night. All five children were soon asleep. The adults stood and gathered their things to leave. “Merry Christmas,” Margaret said softly as Julie hugged her before leaving.
 
Abraham stood beside her with Laura in his arms. The other children had been softly laid in the back of the wagon. “Merry Christmas, Margaret.”
 
Margaret softly touched the sleeping little girl’s cheek as her head rested on Abraham’s shoulder. She watched the last of the McCain’s leave. “Merry Christmas!” she shouted as she waved. Then she closed the door.
 
Jennifer walked up to Margaret and put her hands on her shoulders. “Thank you for tonight, Margaret. We all needed it.” Margaret smiled as she studied her mother’s face. It looked more relaxed. Margaret knew things were going to still be hard, but she also knew things would be better for her family. They could now begin healing and adjusting to life as it was…not as they wanted it to be.
 
Margaret saw her mother to bed, promising she would spend the next morning cleaning up the mess. She slowly pulled out the letter Lucas had written and read the letter again. Then she opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch. The sky was clear that Christmas Eve night as she lifted her head up toward the stars. She saw a star twinkle at her and she smiled as she shivered. “I’m going to marry you some day, Luke!”

***
Far, far away in an army camp, Luke sat outside his tent as he looked up at the stars. He took another long puff from his cigar as a star twinkled at him. He thought of Margaret and whispered, “I just may marry that woman some day!”

The Years Before — The Search

 

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

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