“Now boy’s…boys... settle down.”
Noah looked up from his book, “What is it Teaspoon?”
The stationmaster looked around the room at his riders, “Well now, we’ve been asked to help with the Christmas Nativity Scene at the church this year.”
“Nativity?” spat Cody, “What for?”
Teaspoon arched an owlish brow at the young man, “Because they asked. Seems to me you boys ought to try to look at this like the opportunity it is.”
“Opportunity for what Teaspoon?”
Sighing at Jimmy’s question, Teaspoon set a pile of woolen robes on the table, “To show the people of Sweetwater that you’re not the...the....”
“Crude, unruly, troublemakers they call us behind our backs?”
Buck nodded at Noah’s words, “They don’t really want us there do they Teaspoon?”
The older man gauged his words. When he finally answered his tone didn‘t leave any room for argument, “They asked and we’re goin’.”
Jimmy leaned his head to the side, “Alright, but what’re all the blankets for?”
“These,” Rachel appeared and dropped more robes on the table, “Are not
blankets, they’re your costumes.”
Cody backed up to the wall, waving his hands as he went, “Uh uh! No way...I’m not gonna wear a...a…blanket.”
Rachel gaped at him and crossed her arms, “Well-”
“I bet Kid’s gonna be the donkey.”
Kid leveled a look at his friend, “I think you’d make the better donkey-”
Jimmy pushed back his chair and faced Kid down. In a moment the two shared wide grins. Turning toward the wall they both wagged a finger toward the wall, “Let Cody be the donkey.”
“What?” Cody was even more upset now, “Wait a minute, I’m not playin’
“Cody!” Teaspoon’s warning cut him off.
“Seems like it fits-”
As Teaspoon smoothed the ruffled feathers amongst the group, Rachel walked over to Lou, standing quietly to the side.
“Whatcha thinkin’?” the housemother asked as she nudged the smaller rider with her shoulder.
“Just thinkin’ Cody probably would make a pretty good donkey,” Lou said with a laugh. Holding a robe in her hand she turned to Rachel, “So what part do I have?”
“What part would you like?”
“Something in the back,” Lou said with determination.
“Louise,” Rachel said, “This is Christmas. You don’t have to hide in the back.”
“I don’t want to be in front of all the town,” Lou protested. “Somethin’ small and in the back will do just fine.”
Alright, well, there’s the star,” Rachel suggested.
“Yeah, I think I heard Mrs. Mosely say they were gonna fix something up so that the star was actually hangin’ in the air.”
Lou’s eyes went wide, unable to determine if her friend was joking or not. Either way, she wasn’t taking a chance. “No. I ain’t hanging from the ceiling the entire night.”
As she turned to the robes and assorted things on the table, she missed Rachel’s quick smile. “I’ll take this one.”
“That’s a drum, Lou.”
“I know it’s a drum, Buck. I’ll be the Little Drummer Boy. I can stay in the back.”
“Not if they make you play a solo,” Cody sassed.
“I ain’t playing no solo, I’ll hold the drum and walk by the baby. And that’s it.” The look in her eye and the tone of her voice ended all further discussion and Teaspoon wisely decided it was time to outfit the rest of his boys.
“Alright,” Teaspoon said, rubbing his hands together with a gleam in his eye. “We’ve got Cody and Lou taken care of. Who’s next?”
“Teaspoon, I never said I was gonna be the donkey,” Cody grumbled. A quick look from Teaspoon sent him stomping off the corner, mumbling under his breath.
“Like I said, who’s next?”
"Later Cody-" Teaspoon eyed the riders and picked out his next choice, well choices.
"Ike? Buck? I've got the perfect roles for you both."
Buck's face registered his discomfort. His face was pursed and tight, as if he'd just heard a mule braying in his ear.
Ike looked a bit more resigned to his fate, **What do you want me to do?**
Teaspoon reached into the pile on the table and tossed two striped robes at them, "I figure you boys would be the best shepherds this town has ever seen."
"Yeah," Buck huffed out, "if we were shepherding buffalo."
An arched brow cut the laughter down to a dull roar, "Buck?"
**Fine by me**
"That's the spirit Ike," Rachel treated the young man to a warm smile, "Ike's the best with the animals around the station-"
Cody dropped the crudely fashioned donkey head onto his toe, "Then let him be the donkey. What about Joseph?”
Jimmy scoffed, "You?"
"Yeah," Cody stared him down, "I'd make a great Joseph."
"Cody-" Teaspoon shook his head, his patience nearing its limits.
"Quiet," he continued, "Distinguished...."
Noah pounded the table between chuckles, "I thought you said you'd make
a 'great' Joseph?"
"Yeah, you don't know nothin' about bein' QUIET or DISTINGUISHED!" Buck added as he fought to stay on his feet.
Cody's feelings were about as prickly as a cactus. "What do you say Teaspoon?"
He looked down at the list in his hands, "No…looks like the pastor just asked for the background characters. 'Seems I heard they've already got themselves a Mary and a Joseph."
Cody wrinkled his nose up in disgust and once again turned away from the main group, looking at the crude donkey’s head he’d be forced to wear. Teaspoon watched for a minute and then turned his attention to the remaining three riders. The only ones without parts, and he was about to remedy that.
“Well, boys,” he drawled while looking at Jimmy, Noah and Kid. “I think I have the perfect parts for you.”
Kid swallowed and felt a sudden uneasy feeling settle into his stomach. “Let me guess, we’re the sheep?”
Ignoring Cody’s snicker from behind him, Teaspoon shook his head ‘no.’ “That wasn’t what I had in mind, but considering the grief you gave to Cody, that might just be appropriate.”
“Teaspoon, I could see you punishin’ Jimmy and Kid here, but I didn’t do nothing,” Noah protested.
Buck and Cody ignored the pointed looks Teaspoon sent their way and continued laughing at the hang-dog expressions of the trio. Jimmy however, had a little more fire in his eyes.
“Teaspoon, you make me be a sheep, and I quit. I swear.”
“Now, hold on Jimmy. Don’t go packin’ your bags just yet. What I actually had in mind for the three of you, was the Wise Men.”
“I don’t know, Teaspoon,” Cody interjected, a small smirk on his face. “I think the town’s going to want wise men, not wise guys”.
The bunkhouse roared with everyone’s laughter. Cody was so busy laughing he didn’t see Kid’s pillow coming until it smacked him right in the face. Jimmy and Noah gave Kid congratulatory looks as they glared at the others. Soon however, the laughter overtook them and the pretended insults and injuries were forgotten.
“Alright, settle down,” the preacher pleaded as he struggled to make his voice heard over the noise of the assembled group. There had been no time to rehearse the pageant and now he and his wife were trying to organize everyone, and failing miserably.
The town was beginning to gather in the church and they were no closer to organizing the assembled chaos then they had been forty minutes earlier. The riders were in their costumes, except for Cody who was now protesting very vocally.
“No way,” he was complaining to Mrs. Mosely and Teaspoon. “I am not crawling on the floor with her ridin’ on my back.”
Teaspoon looked in the direction Cody had indicated and saw Lizzie Peterson, dressed in a blue cotton robe as Rachel was arranging the padding to make her look like she was heavy with child. It was a comical site considering Lizzie was 11 years old and so small she looked like she was 9.
“Cody, Lizzie Peterson don’t weigh no more than a sack of feed from Tompkins’ store.”
“I don’t care Teaspoon,” he huffed. “I still ain’t crawling on the floor!”
“We’ll talk about this later,” Teaspoon said, seeing another crisis in the making and hurrying off to help the preacher.
Buck and Ike had arrived at the church to discover that they would be shepherding the Jennings children dressed as sheep. All seven of them. Some were sitting sullenly in the corner, some were running wild behind the curtains, bumping into everyone in their path, but little Jacob had become a constant shadow to Ike.
From the moment Mrs. Mosely introduced the shepherds to their flock, Jacob had been following Ike around. “Baa-aa” Jacob bleated out. “Baa-aa”
Ike rolled his eyes and looked at Buck. Finally reaching the end of his patience Ike turned around. **Go away** he signed and then made ‘shooing’ motions with his hands.
Jacob continued to act like a lamb and Ike grew more frustrated. **Leave me alone. Stop following me.**
The signs were more insistent, but Jacob continued on. Buck tried to hide a smirk, but was beginning to lose the battle. Ike glared at his friend and turned once more to the little boy on all fours at his feet.
**Would you stop making that noise? It’s making my head hurt. Just go away and leave me alone!**
Little Jacob turned to Buck, “What’d he say Buck?”
Buck, biting back his smile, walked over to Jacob and Ike. “Jacob, why don’t you go play with your sisters for a little while. Ike just needs a little space, he’s kinda grouchy.”
Ike shot a glare at his friend and then watched in bemusement as Jacob came up with his own plan.
“I got a better idea Buck,” he said throwing himself at the Kiowa’s legs. “I’ll play with you.”
Buck’s eyes went wide and his eyebrows climbed halfway up his forehead. Ike gave a triumphant little grin and then with a wave of his hand, turned and started to walk away.
“Ike,” Buck called out. “You can’t just walk off, we’re supposed to be doin’ this together.”
“Oh I don’t know, Buck,” Teaspoon said walking up to his rider. “I think Ike deserves a minute by himself. But you are right about one thing…”
Buck was almost afraid to ask. “What?”
“I really think you should be helping more with the Jennings kids. Why don’t you gather up your brothers and sisters, Jacob so’s Buck can watch ya’ll.”
“Teaspoon,” Buck sputtered out.
“No need to thank me son,” Teaspoon grinned at him as the remaining children all gathered around Buck. Buck watched Teaspoon and Ike’s retreating figures and then with a less than reassuring grin, looked down at the seven children flocked around him.
Ike shook with silent laughter at Buck’s wide-eyed expression. He was sure Buck would try and get him back for this, but at the moment he didn’t care. He spotted a little curtain hung near the wall and quickly ducked behind it, hoping for a moment’s peace.
“Ike,” Lou blurted out at his sudden appearance. She was seated on a chair, quietly keeping out of everyone’s way. Ike gave her a half smile and then sank to the ground, his back sliding along the wooden wall.
“Little Jacob Jennings get to be too much for you?” Lou asked with a smile. Ike merely looked at her, before cradling his throbbing head gently in his hands.
Lou turned her attention and peeked out of the curtain as the panicked voice of Curtis Vaughn rose above the mingled noises of the group. Mrs. Mosely was trying to calm the teenaged boy down, but Curtis was becoming more and more agitated.
“Uh-huh,” he said as he started pulling his robe off. “The whole town’s out there. I can’t go out there. What if I forget my lines?”
“Curtis,” Mrs. Mosely replied in the calming voice of the grandmother she was, “Joseph doesn’t have any lines.”
“Well, see, there you go. I didn’t remember I ain’t got no lines. I’m not doin’ this. I can’t go out there.”
The robe finally off, he thrust it in the startled hands of the preacher’s wife and then stomped out the door. The room had grown quiet during the exchange and now once again everyone began to clamor for attention, speaking over each other.
“Alright!” Reverend Mosely exclaimed. “That’s it, I’ll be outside.”
Instantly the room was quiet and Teaspoon stood in shock as the normally quiet and staid preacher walked past him all the while shaking his head and muttering under his breath. Teaspoon wasn’t sure he heard correctly, but he was pretty sure he heard the reverend ranting about needing the patience of Job to deal with these ruffians. Turning his attention back to the room he saw Mrs. Mosely and the rest of the assembled group looking to him for guidance.
Clearing his throat he said, “Alright everyone. Why don’t we all just line up in our places? That way we’ll all be ready when the good reverend comes back inside.”
Mrs. Mosely smiled, as they quietly became to assemble themselves. Jimmy, Kid and Noah were in the back since the Wise Men would be the last ones on stage. Buck and Ike were trying to keep the seven Jennings children all together, which was proving difficult because little Sara wanted to run off. Lou was standing beside them, holding her little drum and Cody was nowhere to be found.
“Cody?” Teaspoon hissed. He was supposed to be next to Lizzie Peterson, so he could carry her in. Teaspoon quickly walked through the group looking for his missing rider.
“Kid,” he asked, finally reaching the back of the church. “You seen Cody?”
“No,” Kid replied. “We haven’t seen him since he was fussing earlier.”
“I thought I saw him take off after Curtis,” Jimmy said. “But it was kinda hard to tell with everythin’ going on in here.”
Teaspoon heaved out a sigh and set off to search the group again. Maybe in the press of bodies and props he’d missed him the first time.
Reverend Mosley sat on the stairs, his balding head cradled between his weathered hands, “I just can’t...”
“Hey Howdy Reverend Mosley.”
The older man looked up in a rush and got a crick in his neck for the effort, “Cody! What are you doing out here?”
A hairy nose snuffled under the Reverends’ chin and the man shot to his feet. “Heavens! What are you doin’ with that...that...”
Cody swiveled and looped an arm over the Reverend’s shoulder, “All I need is just a moment of your time Reverend Mosley, I’ve got it all figured out.”
“What are you talking about Cody?”
“You see-” prompted Cody, “Here’s what we can do-”
Jimmy leaned up against the wall in the outer room of the church and eyed the confusion around him. He knew that Teaspoon would be upset if the show didn’t go well, but he just couldn’t see that gettin’ upset would fix anything, so he waited.
Noah and Kid stood close by, looking for Cody’s blond head to appear in the throng of people. “Where in blazes is that boy?”
“Dunno Noah, last time I saw him, he was headed out back.”
“Out back?” Noah shook his head, “That boys’ got no more sense than God gave a field mouse playin’ with a cat‘s tale.”
“Well heck, this is Cody we’re talkin’ about.”
Kid shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded, “You’re both right, but... should we go look for him? What if something happen-”
“What the -?” Noah reached for a whip that wasn’t there. “What is that noise-”
Closing his mouth, before the flies could get in, Kid sputtered, “Is that-?”
“You think?” Jimmy’s voiced was hushed with uncertainty.
Noah leaned closer.
“Could that be-?”
“Cody?” They guessed.
The door opened and Cody stumbled inside, tugging a rope behind him, “Boys?”
“Where have you been!?” Kid’s voice raised a bit with the rush of relief he felt.
Cody opened his mouth, but closed it over the unspoken thought, “Don’t got time to spit that particular yarn for ya, I’ve got to get dressed.”
Looking at his three friends he shoved the rope at Kid, “Hold this for me will ya?”
Kid took the rope and leaned over to look out the door, “CODY!”
Cody shrugged as he peeled off his shirt, “What can I say? I certainly have a certain...a certain...” he searched for the word, but couldn’t find it, “Nevermind... we’ve got a show to put on!”
Teaspoon found his way to the front of the church. “Thank you- Excuse me! Thank you, thank you.” Teaspoon’s voice dimmed a bit as the din in the room quieted down. Clearing his throat he began again. “We’d like to thank you all for your patience-”
“It’s about dang time!”
With a wry smile Teaspoon nodded, “Yes, thank you Mr.Tompkins. Now, I have the distinct pleasure of presenting Sweetwater’s Second Christmas Pageant.” Making a quick exit, Teaspoon high stepped over to his seat beside Rachel.
Smiling like the Christmas Star herself, Rachel leaned closer, “How is it goin’ back there?”
“Well,” Teaspoon’s shoulders rose with an in-drawn breath, “Let’s just say, this Christmas Pageant will be one they’ll be talkin’ about for years to come.”
‘O,’ Rachel mouthed the word as the curtain came up.
“Baaaa!! Baaaa!!” Jacob Jennings raced down the aisle from the back of the room with a rather harried Buck just a step behind. “Baaa!!” Buck reached out and grabbed Jacob’s little cotton tail, but instead of stopping the boy, the tail came right off.
Jacob skidded to a stop and looked over his shoulder at his behind. Seeing the empty space on the back of his costume the young boys sniffled, whimpered and then began to howl.
Buck, standing a few feet away, a ball of cotton fluff held loosely between his fingers.
“You broke my tail!” He continued to wail and Buck looked helplessly at the Reverend, who leaned bonelessly against the back wall beside the door. Mrs. Mosley motioned to Buck, pointing at the audience. His eyes widened in surprise and Buck raced forward and picked the boy up and ran back out the door clutching onto the crying boy.
“Oh my goodness,” breathed Rachel.
“That’s nothing,” chuckled Teaspoon, “watch this.”
The door to the back opened again and an earsplitting bray trumpeted out. Several people in the room nearly jumped out of their seats as Cody tromped into the room. Beaming a smile that outshone the candles in the room, Cody took a few steps forward only to be yanked back a foot. Gritting his teeth together Cody turned and with both hands on the rope pulled with a Herculean effort. Inch by inch, Sampson entered the room, scarring the wooden floor with his uncooperative hooves digging in. On his back, little Lizzie Peterson clung to Sampson, her arms locked around the donkey’s neck as she bravely tried to smile.
Cody continued to smile and walk down the aisle, dragging the ornery donkey behind him.
Rachel leaned back against the pew with her hand cupped in front of her mouth to hide her laughter.
Reaching the front of the room, Cody let go of the rope and reached up to help Lizzie down. It was then that Rachel saw what had half the women in the room blushing. Cody’s robe hung just below his knees. Made for the younger and smaller boy, it was riding up over his long johns and boots. Nervous laughter flitted through the audience but Cody took it in stride even dodging to the side as Sampson tried to take a bite out of his leg.
Leaning toward Rachel, Teaspoon chuckled softly. “I knew it, that boy- was born for the stage.”