Lou stood on the front porch, wrapping her shawl tighter around her shoulders as the wind picked up. A chill ran down her spine as she spotted the first flakes fall to the ground. She sighed in relief that at least most of her family had made it to their house to celebrate Christmas together.
Her advanced stage of pregnancy had Kid warning her repeatedly to stay out of the cold air and she didn't feel like arguing with him with so many people around. But even he had to agree that the arrival of all their guests was reason to come outside long enough to greet the much anticipated newcomers. Lou smiled happily as she watched her husband help first Buck's wife, Grace, and their children down from their wagon then rush over to give Rachel a hand with her new baby. Their five children, along with three of Buck's, and Rachel and Teaspoon's four year old son, were already running around the front yard, trying to catch snow flakes on either their tongues or their mittens. At least it brought happiness to someone, she thought.
Something told her that this threat of snow Kid had been watching all day, that was now here, was not going to be the white Christmas they would like to see when they woke come morning. Her suspicions were agreed on a moment later as she overheard Buck speak to her husband.
"Kid, once we get the children and womenfolk settled in the house, I suggest you and I head to the general store to pick up as much provisions as we can." He paused and glanced up at the sky. "Something tells me you're gonna have house guests for a lot longer than you had originally planned."
The Southerner nodded as he too looked up. "Yeah, I've been thinkin' the same thing all day. At least you all made it here before the ground got covered. I already made one trip to the store 'cause Lou was worried we wouldn't have enough for the big meals she has planned for Christmas Eve and Day. Let's get the horses in the barn first and set up a rope from the back porch to the barn door and hope we don't have to use it."
He and Buck headed to the wagon and buggy situated outside the gate. He took the reins of the horses that Teaspoon held out to him.
"I'm gonna leave these here so we have less snow to drive them through when are able to leave than if we move them out back by the barn," Teaspoon said, indicating the wagons with a wave of his hand.
"I wish I had room in the barn but the business has been growing so much it's now full with my stock," Kid told them as the three men disappeared around the side of the house.
Lou watched them until they were out of sight. She was about to go down the stairs to help Rachel and Grace carry all their belongings and boxes of wrapped presents into the house when her arms were suddenly filled with a baby.
"Don't you even think of steppin' off this porch onto those slippery steps, young lady!"
With a look that said she wasn't about to take any arguments, Rachel headed back to the buggy to get more bags. Lou laughed and shook her head. After five children and having a sixth one only two months away from being born, she certainly didn't feel as 'young' as when Rachel had first called her that but it sure felt nice because it made it really seem like her family was there with her. Well, all but one important member.
Her eyes drifted down the street, first in one direction, then the next. Not much activity was going on now that the snow had started. There were people heading toward the main part of town that housed the many businesses but not a soul was coming toward where their house stood. She dismissed her disappointment as she and Rachel were joined on the porch by Buck's wife.
"Rachel's right; this is the only trip I hope to make on them for the next few days," Grace told her as she placed her hand on her abdomen. Her meaning was instantly picked up by Lou as she shared a joyful laugh and hug with the woman she'd come to think of as a sister. "We were going to share the news with everyone on Christmas but Buck knew I wouldn't be able to hold out for two hours, much less two days!"
"I'm so happy for the both of you!" Lou exclaimed as she hugged Grace again. "You sure are going to have your hands full believe me!" Buck and Grace's youngest child, their fourth, wasn't even a year old. Lou thought back to when she'd stopped nursing Emma Louise, when she was about the same age, only to find out a month later that she was expecting Charlotte.
"Well we have to keep up with you and Kid now, don't we?" Grace teased as she glanced back at her other children running around the yard. "Let them play in this while they can; they'll be underfoot and grumbling before we know it." She headed into the large house, followed by Rachel, who had taken her baby back from Lou.
Only Lou stayed outside, her eyes searching the street once more.
"Everyone who said they were coming is here so we should be grateful for that."
"I know and I am." Lou turned to face her husband. "I was just hoping, is all." She frowned as her eyes couldn't help but drift to the street.
"He hasn't come yet, Lou, not since the birth of his namesake and that was seven years ago. It is strange, though; he usually sends a large trunk of gifts for all of us with a note sayin' he doesn't know if he'll be able to make it in time for Christmas or not. We didn't get anythin' from him this year."
"You know that isn't important to me."
Kid decided to drop the subject or he knew Lou well enough to know she'd be brooding about it all night. "Why don't you head inside with the others? It's not good for the two of you to be out in this cold this long?"
Lou grinned in spite of the situation they were finding themselves in the middle of. "I'm going, I'm going." She leaned back against her husband as he wrapped his arms around her, or at least tried to wrap them around her, since her expanding size stopped him from reaching more than the top of her belly, just under her chest. She knew he did that on purpose to tease her then make her wait until they were alone hours later before showing her how much he loved her. "You keep in mind how cold I might have gotten so I expect a lot of warming up come bedtime." She turned around in his arms so his hands were now on either side of her breasts.
Kid looked at her in surprise as he accepted the kiss she gave him before breaking away from his arms and heading to the door. He automatically held the screen door open for her to enter the house, not hearing Buck come up behind him until the Indian spoke.
"They sure know how to get us just where they want us then drop us cold, don't they? That must be how I'm gonna have two little ones under seventeen months old." Buck waited until Kid caught his meaning then accepted the hand shake in congratulations. The two long time friends shared a laugh as they watched their offspring continue to run around the yard.
"Come on, let's go get those provisions." Kid led the way down the front steps to the walkway that led out to the street, the two ex-riders chatting happily as if they weren't about to face some hardships in the days to come.
The family reunion was turning out to be everything Lou had hoped it would. The children all got along well and it was so much fun to have Rachel and Grace in the kitchen with her each time a meal was prepared. As all the adults had expected, come the next morning there was already nearly three feet of snow with more coming down heavily.
Christmas Eve preparations were a thankful distraction from the storm raging outside the house. Kid had already cut a tree and set it up inside the parlor so the boys and girls had something to keep them occupied as they made ornaments to decorate the tree with and Grace helped them string popcorn to drape on the branches. Buck and Kid would take turns going out on the front and back porches shoveling the snow away from the doors, hearing repeated arguments from Teaspoon in the process but ignoring them as the last thing they wanted was any injury to come to the man they always considered to be a father to them.
Lou's special Christmas Eve dinner was well under way by early afternoon with much anticipation in store by everyone in the house. She'd put a lot of time into planning the menu and wanted to please all the hearty appetites that would be assembled at her dining table but her heart wasn't completely into it. With every bang of something outside due to the wind, she was the first one to the nearest window to see what the cause of it was. Of course the swirling snow prevented her from seeing anything but that didn't stop her from looking none the less. Kid would quietly try to assure her it was an object and not a person trying to approach the house. She would nod her head and try not to let him see her disappointment.
The evening carried on as planned. A delicious meal was followed by a night by the fireplace with stories being told and children talking excitedly about what Santa would be bringing them come morning. Yawns from several small bodies indicated that they had been up late enough so while the mothers hustled their children into their beds, the men took one more venture out into the bad storm to check on the stock and give them feed that would last them through the next day, in case the snow got any higher and they couldn't walk through it at all come morning.
Lou, dressed in her nightgown with her robe wrapped tightly around her enlarged body, stood at the bedroom window that faced the road out front of the house. She alternated between that window and the one where she could normally catch a glimpse of the barn. Of course she couldn't see anything in the darkness but she was feeling restless and wouldn't go to bed until she knew Kid and Buck were safely back in the house.
"We get soaked to the skin the second we step out on that porch," Kid told her as he began to peel off the layers of sopping wet clothes he was wearing. "Buck says he feels a difference in the way it's blowing and says it could be on the way to lightening up. I was out there right with him and didn't notice anything different but then you know Buck." He chuckled as he slipped on dry long johns and pulled on a shirt over them for added warmth.
Kid approached his wife and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Lou, you have to stop this. If he was coming he would have let us know or at least sent his usual note that he wouldn't be able to get here."
"But maybe no news from him is an indication that he might be on his way." Lou turned to face Kid. "You said yourself it was odd that he didn't send us anything this year; he never forgets the children. Maybe he planned on bringing somethin' in person." She turned back to the window once more, as a shiver ran down her spine. "He could have been trying to get here when he got caught in the storm. Maybe he's out there lost or hurt or his horse got away from him and he's on foot or …"
Kid placed two fingers over her lips before replacing them with a soft kiss. "Yes, all those things are possible but I know him and he's no fool. No one would try to travel in a storm of this magnitude. And even if he did, it's not like I could go out in search of someone I don't even know is out there! In case you haven't noticed, we're snowbound. No one could get through this; Buck and I have enough trouble getting to the barn and we only do that with the aide of a rope or that would be impossible. It might be the best, most comfortable way to be trapped in a blizzard but when you can't get out of where you are for a long period of time, it will soon have its effect on everyone. Thank goodness the young 'uns have Christmas to keep them occupied. They will have their presents come morning and we'll have another wonderful meal that my wife has worked hard to plan and prepare and after that we'll all be sitting around getting anxious for this to end so we can get back to normal."
He wrapped his arms around her as he pulled her into a hug. "I wish he was here too but for now we have to think only about the safety of everyone in this house."
Lou placed her head on Kid's shoulder. "You're right. I'm sorry. I just want to be sure he's safe and I miss him. I want him here with us, like the rest of our family is."
"I know, Lou, and I miss him too."
Buck's prediction to Kid had come true. Come morning, the wind had died down considerably and while it was still snowing, the flakes were now lighter and falling much slower than they had the past two days. That sight, along with the cheers of excitement coming from their children at the sight of what Santa had left them brightened the spirits of all the adults, Lou included.
She knew that Kid was right - the people in this house at this moment were what mattered. It had been her idea to have everyone come spend these few days with her and Kid, instead of just coming over Christmas afternoon. Yes, they all lived close enough that they felt together even when in their separate homes but she'd always dreamed about a Christmas like this since they'd all started their own families and this year had finally seemed like the perfect time to carry out her wishes.
Lou nodded her head repeatedly and tried to answer more than one child at a time as each little McCloud came to her, talking anxiously about a gift they had just opened. She was just about the tell Emma Louise she could put on her new dress when it was time to sit down for dinner when a sound outside caught her attention.
"Did you hear that?"
Noticing that she was about to get up off the sofa, Kid moved to the window behind where she was sitting, lifted the drape out of the way and tried to peer outside. "Lou, I didn't hear anything and there doesn't seem to be anyone around … not that a soul would be able to move around in those drifts." He let the curtain fall back into place and bent down to pick up his youngest son to admire the new toy he was being shown.
Lou was about to speak to her oldest daughter again when she lightly moved her aside so she could stand up. "There it is again. I know I hear something." She looked around the room for some agreement from someone so she didn't feel like she was going crazy.
"She's right; I heard it too," Buck said as he headed toward the door. He was angry at himself for not hearing it the first time as he was usually very keen on that sort of thing. The only thing on his mind had been his children all wanting his attention at once and waiting for just the right moment to give Grace the special gift he had picked out for her.
"Yeah, I did too." Kid sent a sheepish look Lou's way as he preceded Buck to the front door. It took little effort to push the screen door open as the wind hadn't blown much snow up on the porch after he and Buck had shoveled one last time before turning in for the night.
Stepping out into the cold air, followed closely by Buck, both men stopped dead in their tracks.
"The least you could have done was clean off the steps."
Lou pushed her way past the two men at the sound of a very familiar grumbling voice.
"I near broke my neck climbin' up here!" he continued in the same gruff voice.
Kid chuckled and leaned up against the side of the house as he watched the bundled up man throw a handful of snow his way before using the railing to pull himself to his feet. He didn't have to duck out of the way as the snow didn't even come close to him.
"I'll have to remember it's customary to expect visitors during a blizzard."
"Oh hush, you!" Lou playfully pushed her husband harder against the side of the house as she brushed past him and a laughing Buck. She stood in front of the man now standing on their front porch.
"Jimmy," she sighed happily as she threw her arms around his neck.
The ex-rider had to use one arm to catch the woman throwing herself at him and the other arm to grab hold of the rail post before he wound up down the stairs once more. "You're feelin' mighty plump there, Lou," he teased as he quickly moved out of the way of the slap he knew was coming at his shoulder.
"Now you hush!" she playfully ordered before growing serious. "I knew you would come; I just knew it."
Kid nodded to Buck and with a pat on Jimmy's shoulder to show how happy he was to see him, both men softly slipped back into the house. He would have the rest of the day and more to catch up with his friend; right now his wife needed him more.
Jimmy stared at Lou as he took hold of her hands, growing somber. "I tried, Lou, I really did, but I wasn't able to bring anythin' with me." He looked down at his feet.
Lou removed one of her hands to lift his chin so he was looking at her once more. "Do you really think I care about that?" She took him into a hug again and smiled as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Jimmy, haven't you learned by now, it's your presence that matters, not presents."
Author's Note: This story was written for the Snowbound Challenge and was inspired by the Christmas card Dede sent me