Sitting on a porch listening to the screams of a woman in labor for the second time in just a handful of months, Teaspoon cringed at it. His own girls were in the house helping. His darling Addie had been so moved by helping little Ophelia into the world that nothing would have kept her from being there for Lou now. Teaspoon would have liked to have been anywhere but where he was. It had been hard enough the few months before hearing Heather crying out in pain but this was his Lou. They were all like his children…his riders and Heather and Addie too. Addie even occasionally called him Pa. It wasn't often but when she did he felt so proud he wondered how the buttons didn't pop right off his shirt.

Kid could not listen to his wife in pain and none of them thought Jamie, the couple's young son should hear it at all so Kid was in the barn with his son. That left Teaspoon to stand watch. He wished he had sent Buck here and stayed in his office in town but he hadn't. Of course one look at the stern expression on his Rachel's face told him that wasn't actually an option.

So there he sat…except when he stood or paced. And he waited. He waited and tried to unhear every scream that came from the humble house that just yesterday he had heard Kid talking about adding on to. In time—what seemed like a very long time—he heard the lusty screams of a very different sort. There was no mistaking the urgent cry of a newborn child. The sound never failed to make Teaspoon a little misty. He pushed himself away from the porch rail where he'd been leaning and headed to the barn.

As Teaspoon leaned on the doorway taking in the sight of Kid with little Jamie, he saw his boy's head snap over to him. Jamie was still blissfully unaware of the older man's presence and was going on and on about something that was only important to the mind of a four year old boy. Kid was no longer listening to his son though.

"Is she…"

"Don't know details," Teaspoon said, "But I heard a baby cry so you'd probably better get in there."

They made their way out of the barn and Addie met them in the yard with an offer to see to Jamie for a bit. She was feeling a little lost lately. Cody had gone off to try to start some show that he was certain would take off and generate all kinds of interest and he had taken Heather, Stephano and Ophelia with him. It was right of a man to not want to separate from his family anymore and probably best for Heather after all the time spent apart. She had been so upset before Ophelia's birth that being away from him more would have been very hard on her indeed.

Poor Addie, however, had never been without Heather or, at least, not since before her mother passed away. Heather had been a mother, big sister and friend to her even though they were in actuality cousins. Teaspoon worried for his little girl losing her friend and confidante but then she wasn't without friends or family either.

Kid hurried past the girl merely nodding at her his appreciation for seeing to Jamie. He thought that having already been through this with Jamie that it would be easier but now he realized that if they had a dozen children, he would feel the same every single time.

His feet didn't even touch the porch steps as he ran toward his wife and their new child with his heart in his throat—equal parts anticipation and worry. He was greeted just inside the door by a smiling Rachel which calmed a great deal of the worry. She simply nodded toward the hall which led to their room.

Peeking in he was greeted by one of his favorite sights. Lou was cradling their newest child in her arms and she gazed unguarded at the babe. She'd had worries before Jamie was born that she wouldn't know what to do, how to be a mother. Somehow though, for all her growing pains as a parent—and there had been a few—the love she had for Jamie took over and she was now confident in her instincts about him.

"Am I interrupting? 'Cause if I'm not, I'd sure appreciate an introduction," he said from the doorway.

"Hey there, baby," Lou cooed softly, "That guy there is your pa. He's a pretty decent sort. I think you'll like him once you get to know him. And I think he's going to love having you around…until the boys take notice of you that is."

"Are you trying to tell me we have a daughter?"

She nodded.

"You still want to name her what we planned for a girl?"

She nodded again and whispered softly, "Mary Louise."

"How are you feeling?" he asked softly.

"Not too bad," she replied, "You want to take her out to meet Teaspoon and her big brother while I try to rest a little?"

He nodded and deftly took the infant into his arms and headed out toward the other members of his family. But before he straightened he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.

"Another masterpiece," he smiled at her, "Just perfect. I love you, you know."

Lou nodded and watched him leave and then sank back into her pillow feeling a little like a deflated party balloon. Rolling onto her side she let a few tears fall that she had held in to that point. They were tears of a mixed sort. Some joy at having a new child to love and some relief at the child being healthy and having survived the ordeal. Mostly though there was fear and sadness. She'd learned to be a good mother and learned that much of it had been inside her all the time but raising a girl…what could she teach little Mary about being a woman? She was still figuring it out herself. Could she keep her daughter safer than she had been kept? Sure she had faith in Kid being a good man but then her mother had once believed the same about her father and had been so terribly wrong. Would she someday be wasting on her death bed surrounded by children she had failed, trying to hide them from the terror she brought to their lives?

And she was sad to not have her mother there. Emma would write and Rachel would be there but naming the girl as they had brought her mama to mind and she missed her terribly. Her mama would know what to do, what to say, how to help and it was so very wrong that her mama had to die before she could ever see her grandbabies.

She'd voiced a similar lament when Jamie had been born and Rachel had said that her mama could see him and was probably overjoyed to have such a precious thing to keep watch over. But it still hurt.

Eventually she dozed some until it was time to wake and feed Mary. Her days went the same for a while. She would sleep when she could and would feed and change Mary when she had to and for the first few days she saw nothing really but the inside of her bedroom. Jamie came in to sit with her a few times but mostly Kid saw to him. She was so grateful for a man who would just step up without even being asked or told and just see to Jamie while she recovered. She surely knew of women who were not so lucky. Kid and her brothers though were a special bunch. She had seen it with both of Cody's children. He wasn't able to get away as long when Heather had Stephano but he had left clear orders with all of them, Addie included, that Heather was to be allowed to recover. And then when Ophelia was born, he took Stephano almost entirely on himself which was a big enough task and then still waited on her hand and foot. Those crazy boys had become men and somehow or other, she had become a woman.

She fought it sometimes for even as much as she desired the freedom to show who she was, the fear still dogged her. But she'd been getting more and more comfortable in her own skin. She could work alongside any man still and hold her own but she realized she didn't have to in order to prove anything—not to those who mattered anyway. She could wear dresses or pants and she could cook now but didn't always as Kid could as well. Maybe they weren't everyone's idea of how things went but she was happy. Mostly.

Mary was a couple of weeks old when Lou found herself alone in the house with the child. Kid had taken Jamie when he went into town for supplies and Lou had been napping but when Mary woke for a feeding, there was no more napping. She fed the child and then went to the porch where Kid had set a rocker for her. She held the girl against her chest as she leaned back against the chair and rocked gently.

"You got a raw deal, Mary my love," she said softly to her baby, the tears barely held at bay. "I can take care of you well enough now but someday…someday you're going to want to know how to do your hair so some boy will take notice or something and I won't have the slightest idea what to do with you then. I guess I'll send you to Rachel. There's so much I can't teach you, so much I don't know. I was never really a little girl, not for long at any rate. I don't want that for you, baby girl."

The tears she had really only been hiding from herself finally broke free.

"I want such things for you that I can't even say it all. I want you to have everything I didn't. I ain't talking about fancy things neither. I want you to know the love of family always. We do love you. We loved you before you was born and not just your pa and me…Rachel and Teaspoon and Buck and Addie and Cody and Heather too. And Emma and Sam and even their little Betsy. I know somewhere out there Jimmy loves you…or he would if he knew about you. And in heaven looking over all of us, Noah and Ike and my mama. You got so much love around you little girl. I'd be almost jealous if it weren't all I could ever dream of for you. Don't you ever doubt it either. You are one loved little princess."

Lou sighed and looked around her. Her life had gone from one of adventure to one of simple domesticity. The surprising part was how fulfilling that was to her. She'd never be a good knitter but she could still sew and had made the quilt that covered Mary when she was in her cradle. She understood the strength of Emma more and more everyday and appreciated what the woman had taught her about being a woman.

"There's things I ain't going to know," she said at last, "I'll try to learn but you might have to bear with me. But there's things I can promise. I will keep you as safe as I can, that's safer than most young 'uns, I think. I will love you until the day I die and even then I will love you. Life's a crazy thing, Mary. I can't make a lot of guarantees but those I can. There's things I want for you and some of them I can see to and some you'll have to do on your own. I want you to be happy. More than anything I want to see you smile. I know you can't yet but I just know you'll have the most beautiful smile. You can't be happy all the time. No one is…but you can be mostly happy. And when the bad things happen—and they will—I want you to know you are never alone, baby girl. And I want you to stay strong because you can get through anything at all. And I want you to know there's strength in asking for help too. Just 'cause you could do it all don't mean you have to. I don't want you to see limits…just possibilities. And most of all, baby girl, I want you to live. Really live and love and not fear either one. I'll do what I can to help you get there."

Lou looked down at the relaxed face of her sleeping daughter and knew she should put the child down to sleep in her cradle but the love she felt welled up so deep within her that she could scarcely contain it and she didn't want to set her down. She had been terrified when Addie had squealed that she had a girl. Now though…now she thought they might be alright. She needed to remember all that she just told Mary. The same held true for her as well.

Lou knew in her heart she was loved. There were those who would lay down their own lives for her. There were far more possibilities than limits and had always been…she just hadn't seen them. And the most important things were living and loving without fear.

Tilting her head against the back of the rocking chair, Lou smiled and let her eyes fall closed as a breeze wafted across her face. She felt Mary sigh in her sleep. The babe felt right in her arms and she suddenly couldn't wait for Kid to get home so she could kiss him and show him how happy she was, how grateful for their life, their family. At the same time, she was content in these quiet moments with her little girl. Her girl who would grow without the fear and hardships she'd had. Her little girl who wouldn't have to take so many detours on her way to becoming the woman she was meant to be. Her little girl…Lou's smile widened at the thought.

So...yet another of the EH series...I like these stories and when my muse takes me places that make me sad, these stories are a healing balm. Those of you who read Faith already knew about Jamie and Mary. I hope this helps begin a healing process for everyone...and anyone who doesn't know what I am talking about hasn't read Shotgun Wedding recently. Which is fine. Anyway, the lyrics that follow are ones that have always meant a great deal to me and I think every parent to one extent or another wishes for their child to have a life less encumbered by fear and self doubt. We all want them to carpe every stinking diem they get! Carpe the heck out of it!-J

I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack (Mark D. Sanders & Tia Sillers)

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but they're worth takin'
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth makin'
Don't let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)