Author's Note: A Letter of Celebration

Filling in the Blanks

"You there!"

Jimmy stopped and turned around, pointing at his chest with a questioning look.

Waving from the open doorway of the mercantile the man nodded. "Yeah, you!"

Letting out a pent up sigh he ambled back to the boarded walkway and looked up at the man in the nearly white apron. "I don't usually let a man just holler at me." A simple shift of his stance and his coat slipped back past the grip of one of his Colts.

"Oh, yes… well…" the man cleared his throat reflexively and seemed to stumble over his own thoughts, "I had meant to say…" patting his hands over his apron, his fingers found the letter crammed into his pocket, "here."

He pulled the letter free and held it out to Jimmy, his eyes watchful for any sudden movement.

Jimmy ignored the look, knowing that if he chose to draw on the man any amount of watchful worry from the man wouldn't amount to anything with Jimmy's reflexes as they were. "What's this?" He wasn't willing to touch it until he knew what it was.

"A letter for Mrs. Cain. I hear tell you're stayin' out at their place. Thought you could take it there for me."

"Hmm." Jimmy considered the man, wondering if he was just lazy and unwilling to head out to Emma's. He finally reached his hand out and took hold of the letter. Turning it over in his hands he was finally able to read the address.

Ms. Louise McCloud

St. Joseph, Missouri

Louise.

The world around him went quiet. The hustle and bustle of the passing crowd couldn't intrude on his thoughts. Not even the man yammering at him made any sense as he brushed his fingers over the words he read on the letter.

The man touched his arm and Jimmy resisted the urge to flinch away from the intrusion. He looked up at the man, noise seeping into his ears as his mind fought to understand what the man was saying.

"So you'll take it to Mrs. Cain?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure." He opened his coat and slipped the letter into his inside pocket. "I'll take it to her."

*** ***

"What a nice surprise!" Emma took the letter from Jimmy's hands and turned it over and over as if she could see invisible writing on the paper. "A visit from one and a letter from another. Why, I'm just surrounded by friends."

Jimmy tugged on his collar, a bit unnerved by Emma's emotional state. "I'll, uh, leave you so you can read that in peace and-"

"You'll do nothing of the kind." Emma grabbed a hold of Jimmy by his coat and set him down in a chair on her porch. "It'll take me a minute to read this and I'm sure I'll have a ton of questions like-" Emma's forehead furrowed and he knew she'd seen the address. "Saint Jo?"

Swiping his hat from his head, Jimmy settled it in his lap where one hand worried at the brim. "I wasn't sure how to tell you," he began, "Lou moved to Saint Jo. She quit the Express."

Emma found her way into the porch swing and tucked an errant curl behind her ear. "Then before I read this I think you'd better tell me what happened." She leveled a knowing look at the younger man. "And don't leave anything out."

*** ***

A week before in Saint Joseph

Louise rubbed at her eyes to make them focus in the near dark of her bedroom. The walls seemed paper thin and any scratch of a chair on the floor would wake up Teresa, so she tried desperately to be quiet. A yawn came next, and Louise didn't even have the energy to cover her mouth as no one would know.

The letter on the table was nearly finished and she wanted to send it the next morning's post so she reached out to dab the pen into the inkwell and finish her letter. She told Emma about her move and the store and how dearly she wanted to make it all work. She told Emma about the new folks she'd met and the other children from the orphanage that were still in the area. She told Emma how much Jeremiah and Teresa had changed and how grateful she was that she had time to spend with them.

What she didn't tell Emma was how quiet her room was at night and how much she'd dearly love to hear Cody snoring just once, or how much she'd love to hear Ike trying to open the door without making it creak when he snuck out to feed the animals in the stable. She loved her sister and was thankful to be with her, but she missed her friends… no, she missed her family.

Would Emma feel her longing when she read the words in her letter? Understand how much she wanted to feel at home in Saint Joseph? Know how easy it would be for her to give up and move back to Rock Creek because it would be easier in so many ways?

So that's why I wanted to write to you, Emma. I wanted you to know that I think about you all the time and worry that I'll never be the woman you are. It will be a long time before I can come and visit you, but you're always in my heart.

All my best to you and yours,

Louise

*** ***

Emma set the letter to the left of her cache of paper and picked up her pen, delicately dipping it into the ink. She considered her words for a moment before she began writing.

Louise, my darling girl,

I was set to take you to task for not writing sooner. I would like to think that you would have told me of your move earlier, but as I understand,

She paused; looked down at the paper for a moment before continuing, hoping that Louise didn't think her really upset.

everything happened so quickly that you barely had time to breathe. So I will forgive you. I will also remind you that if you should ever need anything, you know I'm here.

Emma continued to write, pouring out her support for Louise with every word and mixing in a fair amount of stories about her own life.

A hand on her shoulder stilled her movements and she set her pen aside, looking back at her husband. "Something wrong?"

He smiled down at her as his fingers traced the line of her jaw. "Nope, just wanted you to know it's getting late." Sam saw the question in her eyes and he couldn't help smiling just a little wider. "And I need someone warm to sleep next to."

"Oh?" Her expression was seemingly innocent. "You can always cuddle up next to Ben in his crib."

Sam shook his head after some consideration. "He hogs the blanket."

"Well, that certainly won't do," she conceded. "Hmm… what about Jimmy in the guest room? I'm sure he wouldn't mind you usin' half of the bed… they have to share sometimes at the smaller stations and I-"

He covered her mouth with his and a moment later whispered in her ear. "I meant for you to come to bed, Emma… and you know it."

Her eyes twinkled with mischief and she pushed at Sam's chest. "I have to finish this letter and then I'll be right in."

She laughed at his mock reluctance to leave and quickly turned back to the table to finish her letter so she could save her husband from the cold.

Dipping the pen into the well she quickly added her closing words to the letter.

Right now I'd wrap you in my arms and hug you to within an inch of your life, Loulabelle. You are a strong young woman who I love beyond all reason. Know that you're in my thoughts and prayers always and Sam doesn't know it but when he has some time off next month he'll be bringing his family to see you in Saint Joseph.

Until then, all my love,

Emma

*** ***

Jimmy heard the door to the other room close and knew that Sam had gone to hurry Emma. The man who used to strut around like a turkey in Sweetwater was whipped and whipped good by a woman half his size.

Worrying a toothpick between two molars, Jimmy enjoyed the slight twinge of pain that came along with it.

Supper had been a rare pleasure for him. At the bunkhouse it was eat fast or go hungry with Cody around and with Emma and Sam he got to eat a meal like they were in a restaurant but in the comfort of their home.

And really, that's what it was, a home. He'd bet Sam rushed home everyday to see his wife and their new baby. There was something real sweet about what they had together.

The toothpick bit into the corner of his mouth and he spit it out into his kerchief before he tossed it on his saddle bag. Rolling on his stomach pressed his face into the pillow hoping to fall asleep as quickly as possible, but it wasn't going to happen.

Emma had 'requested' to talk to him in the morning. Of course that request had come with a pointed look and a sweet smile. He wasn't fooled. That look meant that Emma had some questions and she wasn't above using torture to get her answers… torture that might involve tea and cookies. And maybe those fancy little china cups of hers. He always worried that he'd break one just by touching one to his lips, or that he'd set it down too hard and shatter the thing and its saucer.

He had some idea of what this 'talk' was about. She'd always been able to see right through him.

Turning on his back he sighed. Maybe that's just what he needed after all, seeing as how he didn't know his own mind anymore.

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