"We wish you a Merry Christmasssss, and a Happy New Year!"
Once again the old English carol sounded in Rick's ears, but this time he grinned proudly as his grandson Davey pounded it out on his portable piano. Piano lessons had been a birthday gift to him and Katie from Oscar, and the older Simons were amazed at how quickly he learned the instrument.
"That's great, Davey….thank you for playing for us." Laurie praised, as the rest of the family applauded. Beaming with pride, the youngest of Robbie's children bowed, then went and sat with his cousin Katie by the fireplace as Rudy stood and raised his cup of punch.
"I want to offer a Christmas Toast…..to Rick for arranging such a nice surprise visit of Robin and Ian and all of you…and to Chief Rob, for proving that wild turkeys still flourish in our valley…and to all the children.." he added. "For helping us keep Christmas, and remembering the joy of it."
"I second that…" Oscar clinked his glass to his old friend, then to Cecilia, as Andy called out, "here, here!".
Just then the familiar sound of bells rang close to the ranch house, and Rick smiled as Melly jumped up and down. "It's Santa….Chelsea, listen…it's Santa!"
Bright-eyed from her nap, one year old Chelsea bounced impatiently in her crib and squealed, "Santa, mama!" as Ramona laughed. Jaime Austin reached in and picked up her godchild.
"Now you've done it, Melly…she loves Santa and his reindeer!" she joked, as Ramona added, "she wants to bring them home, I think!"
"Well, I think that would be great…I mean Auntie Laurie would love to have a reindeer, don't you?" Melly replied, giggling at the mock horror in the expression of her Uncle.
"No, I don't think so, Munchkin…Grandma doesn't mind one visiting, but to live here..uh, uh!" Rick snickered, getting up from his chair, then helping Laurie to her feet.
"Come on, sweetheart, time to let Santa in…."
Once presents were unwrapped, and thank you hugs given and received, Santa consented to a cup of cocoa in the kitchen with "good girl" Jaime, to all the oohs and ahs of the teenagers.
"I think we need to have a good night story, don't you, Laurie.." Oscar decided to distract Davey and Katie, who were asking if they could "join" Santa in the kitchen.
"Yes, we can't forget the Christmas story, kids, can we?" she replied, going to the bookshelves and picking up a familiar red book. "Now, who wants to show the pictures to Chelsea?"
At once there was a clamor from Petey, Melly, and the other Simon and Whitecloud children and they gathered around Laurie as Ramona let Melly hold her cousin.
"Once upon a time….."
Seeing his wife occupied, Rick crept out of sight and pulled 2 brightly decorated packages from his office, then snuck around the Christmas tree and planted them underneath.
"Move over, I need to put something there too.."
The older Simon bit back a chuckle as he quietly slid aside and let A.J. stoop down and place 4 wrapped presents next to his.
"Want to see if Santa's gone?" he whispered, then snuck past the children and went into the kitchen.
Finding it empty, except for a note reading "Merry Christmas-see you for breakfast!", A.J. raided the cupboard for cookies while Rick poured 2 cups of coffee and set them on the table.
"I thought you'd be in here…" Oscar appeared in the doorway, and Rick automatically grabbed another cup and filled it.
"Have a nightcap, Dad?"
"Don't mind if I do, son…" Oscar smiled at the guys and took a seat as A.J. pushed the plate of treats to him.
For a few moments the three men drank their coffee in silence, until the older man broke the quiet.
"Rick, you saw Joe while we were in the cave, didn't you?"
Surprised, Rick did a spit take, then caught his breath as A.J. looked puzzled at Oscar.
"He saw who?"
"Chief Joseph….I was starting to fall asleep from the carbon monoxide, " Rick explained, hoping it made sense to the others. "All at once I heard his voice, then he told me…well, that I had to fight to save all three of us. He …Dad…." He broke off, not wanting to repeat the horrible vision he'd had.
"He showed you what would happen if we didn't make it." Oscar told him, and Rick nodded.
"It was ….well, awful." He said, uncomfortably. "Mom and Laurie were crying, and Robbie was upset, and then it was later, and Laurie went for one last ride, and was thrown from Lightening."
He swallowed hard, and A.J. leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder.
"It's okay, I can't bear to imagine what Linny would have gone through, if you hadn't woken us up." He sighed, then managed to smile when Oscar added, "That's what I heard, Joseph telling you to fight the drowsiness, or we would die. I didn't have the strength to wake up, but you did. I'm proud of you, Rick."
"Thanks, Dad….but there's no way I'm leaving my girl, or putting Mom through something so awful." He replied, moved. Just then Laurie's voice was heard in the background.
"Okay, it's time to go to bed and wait for Santa…Good night!"
"That's my cue.." Rick grinned, then finished his coffee and got up from the table just as Laurie came in.
"Rick? I think the kids can put themselves to bed…whoops!" she squealed, as Rick scooped her up into his arms.
"I heard you, time to go wait for Santa!" he snickered, then carried her out of the room as the others laughed.
"Well, that's one way to celebrate!" Oscar laughed, then caught a shadow through the kitchen window. Getting up, he went to the back door and opened it, only to catch sight of the form of Chief Joseph standing in the middle of the patio.
"Thank you, Joe. …" He whispered, then smiled as his friend nodded in his direction, then mouthed "Merry Christmas" to him, before disappearing into the cold moonlight.
"Oscar?" Cecilia appeared next to him, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"Let's go to bed, honey….and I'll tell you about a real Christmas miracle." Oscar promised, putting an arm around her.
"This I need to hear, good night, A.J." Cecelia replied, kissing her son's cheek then leaving the room with Oscar.
"Night, Mom..Dad." he replied, then turning toward the now empty backyard, added, "Thank you, Chief." As he started out of the kitchen, he missed seeing the former chief illuminated in the moonlight. A proud smile appeared on his face as he murmured, "You are welcome, my son…be happy." A moment later, he was gone, and the only sounds were the wind blowing through the cactus, and the faint singing of children..
"Sleep in heavenly peace…"