She just couldn't help it. She had tried going to bed and sleeping but slumber simply wanted no part of her this night. So here she sat on Christmas Eve unable to stem the flow of tears down her cheeks. Most of the time she was not like this but earlier in the day a couple of letters had arrived to remind her of those she was without.

Those who saw Emma Cain in public would never guess the sorrow she carried. It was a skill she learned through the years. If she hadn't gotten so good at keeping her feelings in their neat little boxes she'd never have survived the months she spent with those dear and precious young people in Sweetwater. But when she was alone it was hard to keep those feelings in check and they often spilled from those little boxes she tried to lock them in.

Emma might not have been one to gush her emotions but she'd fallen instantly in love with each and every one of them. Feelings she thought she had buried with her first born suddenly came alive within her. She was a mother again and was reminded that mothering was her true calling in this life. She knew these weren't children exactly. They were young men, and one young woman, who wished to be treated as adults. They did dangerous but important work but Emma could see the wounded child that lived deep within each of them.

A part of her would always feel a pang of guilt at leaving them. She promised that they'd never be orphans again and yet she had abandoned them as surely as they'd come to expect from people who claimed to love them. They all said they were happy for her and for Sam but she could see it. She had only just begun to scratch the surface with poor guarded Buck and she worried for him every day that he still was pushing people away to further protect his already scarred heart. She had finally felt that she had broken through with Jimmy although Emma knew he still gave his heart too freely to women and not freely enough to his friends. Perhaps she felt the worst about leaving her little Lulabelle. That poor girl needed a mother in the worst way and Emma had just up and left her. The letters came not long after to tell of a woman named Rachel who had come to stay and take care of them. She was less a mother than a big sister or trusted aunt in the eyes of the "boys" but Emma had received one letter from Rachel that told her the woman loved those young people as a mother loves her children and however they thought of her, that's how she would love and protect them. It was a large relief for Emma to know that if she could not be there to care for her young ones that someone who loved them as much as she did was there for them all the same.

So much had happened in the time that followed her leaving Sweetwater and following Sam to his next job. She was grateful to be filled in from time to time with letters from them. While the Pony Express was still up and running she had no trouble at all sending letters and small gifts to them as well but since then it was sometimes hard to know where to find them. She was so very thankful for the news she got even if it was old and often second hand. There had been another young man to join their family and she remembered when Cody and Lou had first written of this Noah Dixon. She knew in an instant that she would have loved him just like one of her own but she had never had the chance to meet him. It was a constant hurt in her very soul that he and dear, sweet Ike were gone from this earth and that they'd been taken in such senseless violence.

As she sat weeping on this Christmas Eve watching the light from a single candle flicker she lamented that her boys--and yes, even though she was hardly a boy, Louise would always be one of her boys-were all scattered to the winds now. Jimmy had taken off with the widow of a rather militant abolitionist named Rosemary. Emma might have agreed with the politics but not the methods. She understood Jimmy's shared passion for the cause given his own conflicted feelings for his father and his father's work. If she read between the lines of the letters the others had written to her, they also shared a passion for one another. At least that's what Jimmy believed. It was certain he had a passion for her but his friends were not sold in the truth of her feelings for him. Most seemed to think she was merely using him more for his reputation as "Wild Bill" than for any true affection for him. Lou had even written that she was Sarah Downs all over again which made Emma's blood run cold as she remembered seeing him with the noose around his neck. A part of her had never forgiven Sam for putting that rope there. He had tried time and again to tell her that he wouldn't have really let Jimmy be hanged but she knew he wouldn't go against his duty either, even if he knew it was wrong. It was something they chose not to talk about as it had turned out alright. As for Rosemary, it was a popular thought among everyone except Jimmy himself, of course, that she was the cause of Noah's death.

Worse than Jimmy's predicament was the knowledge that Cody had joined the Army. War was raging and her boy would be right in the middle of it. She knew him and he knew of nowhere else to be but the thick of things. She could only hope his bravado had mellowed some or she dreaded to think the news she would eventually get. She'd seen the trouble he could get into in peacetime. Almost as frightening as the possibility of his death was the possibility of the death of his spirit. He would see things no man should see and even be required to do things no man should do and it would change him. His optimism was the greatest gift God had given him and it broke her heart that it might be taken from him.

Buck had stayed to help Mr. Spoon with the marshalling in Rock Creek. It was hard in such uncertain and hostile times for a boy of his background to make his way. His home was all but gone and his family scattered so he clung to what little he had left. She had wept at the letter where Mr. Spoon had told her of Buck's decision to stay. Her tears had less to do with his choice than with his choice of words. He had told Mr. Spoon that he would stay because he finally understood what he had lacked in a father and knew that he still needed the only man who cared for him as a father should. Even though they were just words on a page, she could hear the pride and emotion as if the older man was sitting there telling her about it. Someone had finally made an inroad with that boy and didn't build a wall on it. The letters she got from Buck were distant and grew more so after Ike's passing. She knew that leaving as she had created a good deal of the distance and that he felt more and more detached from her as the time passed. She missed the good natured joking of his earliest letters where he would recount every eccentric thing that Mr. Spoon did. Cody might have fancied himself the writer, but Buck could tell a funny story to rival anything Cody could come up with. In Buck's brief and largely unemotional letters now there was only ever one tiny glimmer of real feeling. Every single letter was signed with, "I miss you Emma." And every single one tore a hole right through her heart.

Kid and Lou had bought a little place and if the letters were any hint of their situation, times were hard for them. Though times often do get hard for young couples starting out. It was possible to live on love for a while after all and they were still young and in love enough to be able to. Emma often wished she lived closer to be more of a help to her sweet Lulabelle as she settled into married life but she had to make do with letters to the girl. They would be alright after all. Things would pick up for them and eventually they'd have a child or two or maybe even more. Still Emma often felt the near despair in Lou's words and wanted to rush to her and hold her and tell her that things would be fine in time.

"God," she whispered through her tears, "Why did you give me those precious ones to love and then scatter them so far from me? Why must they always be in such peril? Surely you wouldn't be cruel enough to visit these hardships on them to punish me for my selfishness in moving away. How can you place them in such uncertainty when I can't help them? I miss them so much."

Emma let her head fall into her hands as the sobs wracked her body. At long last the tears slowed and she looked heavenward.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, "I should not be ungrateful for my blessings. I have so much."

Her first thoughts went to Sam sleeping in the next room. He was all any woman could ask for; handsome, courageous and honest. A man like that could have his pick of women and the only woman he wanted was her.

Now Sam Cain wasn't any more prone to gushing displays of affection than Emma was but there was no doubting the ferocity of his love for her. In all their married days he hadn't once left the house without kissing her. Now that wasn't really true. He had once and then came right back in and made it right. When he would return home whether he'd been gone a week or just a few hours she would feel a desperate longing in his embrace that seemed to make her heart nearly burst.

Sam was all she'd ever dared hope for but God had given her even more for in a small crib next to the bed she shared with her dear husband slept a perfect babe with strawberry curls and a laugh like music. Elizabeth, or Betsy as they called her, had been named for Emma's own mother and brought joy to every single day. She was the peace that Emma had searched for. She was the solace and comfort when bad news came and she was the very reason for her existence. And little Betsy had Sam wrapped right tight around one of her perfect chubby fingers.

Emma knew in her heart that even those young men and the one young woman she worried so much for were her blessings as much as they were her burdens. They had taught her to embrace love again and showed her how much of her life she'd yet to live. She also knew that she was to be their blessing, their bright star in the darkest of their nights. She needed to be for them the one who'd been either taken from them or had never been at all. To be a blessing to another is perhaps the greatest blessing of them all. No, Emma thought, there was no need to feel sorry for herself or to be crying on Christmas of all days. She needed to get some sleep and let that sleep come easy in the knowledge that her blessings were really too numerous to count.


Count Your Blessings - Irving Berlin

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

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