"Has anyone thought of what we're goin' to get Emma for her Birthday?" Lou was lying on her bunk, staring at the ceiling. It was hot and everyone was quiet. "Her birthday is getting' closer and we still don't know what we're getting' her." She wasn't talking to anyone in particular. Just dreamily speaking. It was too hot to do much.

"How about a new dress?" Cody softly suggested. "Or some nice perfume. Tompkins got some new bottles in that are real nice," he had a distant far-a-way look on his face that told the others he was not thinking of Emma.

"We don't know what size she wears, Cody. How we gonna know what dress to get?" Jimmy aimed his pillow at Cody as he countered him. The pillow caught Cody square in the face.

"Who has the ride to St. Jo in 2 days. Maybe they can find somethin' there?" Kid said as he leaned up on his elbow looking around the bunkhouse.

"Me and Ike got that ride. But I don't know if we're the ones to choose the gift." Buck rolled over onto his elbow to meet the look of all the riders. "Maybe one of us should trade with Lou. That way she could help. You know, another woman's touch." Buck was looking at Ike, Ike shook his head in agreement.

"We trust your judgment Buck," Lou said looking at him. "But I think we should stick to a piece of jewelry. Somethin' like a cameo, or locket on a chain." She was speaking to Buck but then turned to all the riders and replied, "don't cha think that sounds like a good idea."

All the riders voiced their agreement and shook their heads in turn.

"Emma's been like a mother to us. The gift should be somethin' special to let her know how we all feel about her. Let her know how much she means to us, all of us." Lou was looking at all the riders. But everyone was lying back, looking at the ceiling. She wondered if they were all thinking of their mothers, as she was thinking of hers.

Two days later, Buck and Ike left for St. Jo. Lou and Kid made arrangements in town at the bakery to have a cake made. The only specifications were a white cake with daisies.

Jimmy and Cody made sure that Emma's close friends, Sam and Abigail, were invited.

Teaspoon was in charge of the meal for the day. He had made arrangements with the local hotel cook to make the meal for the afternoon so Emma would not have to cook. He planned on fried chicken, potato salad and all the trimmings.

The day before Buck and Ike were due back, Teaspoon had Sam take Emma on an outing for the day. A picnic was packed and the 2 left for the afternoon under a beautiful blue sky.

The riders spent the day cleaning the bunkhouse, inside and out.

The fence around Emma's house was white washed and flowers planted by the porch. Lou and Kid hung planters on the porch with daisies spilling over the edges of the pots.

All the tack and supplies around the barn were put away. All the tools put in the shed and the barn doors closed. The entire yard was spotless.

Later in the evening, Jimmy had a stew going for supper, when Sam and Emma returned from their day together. The remaining riders and Teaspoon greeted them on the porch of the bunkhouse.

"I can't believe this place. Look at this, Sam." Emma's mouth was hanging open; her eyes were wide, brimming with tears. "Did you know they were doing this, is that why we went on a picnic, Sam?"

"I had an idea somethin' was up."

Emma looked at Sam and saw a sincere look of surprise on his face.

"Happy Birthday, Emma." Teaspoon was walking down the steps to the wagon.

He stopped at the wagon and gave Emma his hand to help her down. Emma took his hand and stepped down from the wagon. She looked up at Teaspoon with a very wet smile on her face. "I can't believe all of this. This house fairly sparkles." She leaned in to Teaspoon and gave him a hug. "Thank you, Mr. Spoon." She turned to look at the riders on the porch, "and thank you, to each of you. It's the best birthday ever."

All the riders were very pleased with their work and Emma's reaction, but they knew the best was yet to come.

The next day dawned bright and clear. Everyone was up early to get a start on the days chores. The plan was to have everything done by the time the guests arrived at noon.

When the chores were done and Emma returned to her house for her morning rituals, the riders and Teaspoon started preparing for the party. The table was removed from the bunkhouse and brought to the yard by Emma's house. Another table was brought from the barn. Numerous chairs were scattered around the tables and the yard.

During the chaos of setting up for the party, Buck and Ike came thundering in on their mounts. They both held expressions of secretive surprise on their faces as they rode to the corral to unsaddle their horses.

The other riders went to greet them and they all asked in chattered excitement if a present was found. "Did you find something? Did you get it? You're back early, did you get it?"

Buck and Ike were looking very pleased with themselves as they dismounted and pulled out a small package. "Yea, we found something. We think she'll love it."

Quietly, Buck told the other riders of the brooch they had found for Emma. He described in detail the gold pattern around the brooch, inlaid with pearls. The rose in the center with a bird perched above watching over everything. "Ike found it. We looked at a lot of pieces and we were about to give up when he found this piece. He said the bird made him thing of Emma, watching out for us."

The riders agreed it would be perfect, but there was much to do yet, so there was no time to open the small package and look. It would have to wait until Emma opened her presents.

All the riders hurried to finish all the preparations for the party. Lou put table clothes on both the tables as the hotel cook was pulling into the yard. He brought with him fried chicken, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, biscuits and fresh bread, butter and jams with fresh lemonade to drink.

Emma heard the commotion as Sam was riding in. He was dressed in his best suit and was carrying a large bouquet of flowers. Emma walked out on the porch and stood with her hands on her hips. "Well, what on earth…" she stated and looked around at all the fixins.'

The riders turned to Emma and exclaimed, "Happy Birthday, Emma!" as Sam handed her the flowers.

Her hand went automatically to her throat as she watched the flurry of activity. As she stood speechless, Abigail and the baker from town pulled in. Buck helped Abigail from the wagon as Kid and Jimmy tended to the cake.

Emma was still standing on the porch. Tears running down her cheeks. "I best go change into my party clothes," and she turned and disappeared into the house only to return 20 minutes later.

The afternoon was perfect; a gentle breeze, plenty of sunshine and ample food for everyone. Emma was given a seat of honor and was waited on hand and foot.

The candles were lit and Happy Birthday wishes were cast.

"Make a wish, Emma!" Jimmy bellowed from across the yard.

"Careful Sam, wishes and women… their trouble." Cody said to Sam as Emma blew out the candles.

Emma had a smile on her face as she looked at Sam, who ducked his head at the look she gave him. Shivers went up and down his spine.

It was Lou who broke the silence and brought Emma her gifts; a small pile of tokens from Emma's friends.

Emma started with a box about as big as dinner plate. She pulled the card and read; "from, Mr. Spoon." She turned and looked at him, he nodded his head once in acknowledgement. Emma opened the package to a beautiful music box. She lifted the lid and listened to the sweet melody that chimed from inside. "Thank you, Mr. Spoon. It's very beautiful."

She started on the next package; "from Sam," Emma, again gave Sam a look that sent a shiver down his spine. She opened the package to a very delicate shawl in a dusty rose color. The color of the shawl matched the color of her Sunday dress she was wearing. "Thank you, Sam. I love it," and she wrapped it around herself.

Her next package was from Abigail and it held a small drawstring bag that Abigail so frequently made and sold in town. "Thank you, Abigail. I guess you saw the strings on my old bag were frayed and worn. It's perfect."

As Emma reached for the last present, the riders all chimed in; "that's from us." Emma looked at each of her 'boys' in turn and she opened the small box. She was smiling as she lifted the lid. As her eyes fell on the brooch in the box, her eyes faltered and her smile faded. She reached in the box and picked up the brooch and turned it over. Her eyes searched the back and found, "with love, from all of us."

Her hand immediately went to her mouth as she inhaled sharply. Tears fell from her eyes.

"Emma?" It was Lou, sitting next to her that noticed her reaction. Lou's tone stopped all the chatter going on in the group and all eyes were on Emma.

Emma jumped to her feet and ran up the stairs to the house. Closing the door behind her.

All the riders stared after her. Lou glanced at Teaspoon and then got up and followed Emma in to the house. She found her standing at the fireplace, clutching the brooch to her chest.

"Emma, what is it?" Lou asked tentively as she walked up to Emma and put her hand on her shoulder.

Emma took a deep breath and turned to face Lou. "I'm sorry. It just took me by surprise."

"What took you by surprise? Was it the brooch we got you?" Lou asked with worry.

Emma held out the brooch in her hand to show to Lou. "It was my mothers," was all she said. She was quiet for several minutes, as Lou waited patiently, watching her friend. "I think I owe everyone an explanation. Just give a minute, will you? Tell them I'll be right out."

Lou nodded her head and walked to the door, glancing back once, at Emma before she went back outside.

Emma took a deep breath, wiped her face free of the tears and walked out on to the porch. She stopped at the steps to look at everyone, then continued on to her chair, her place of honor for the party.

She looked down at the brooch and collected her thoughts. She raised her chin and looked at each of of her 'boys' and started. "When I was growin' up, I was the middle child of 5 children; two older sisters and two younger brothers. My daddy worked very hard and he loved my mama very much. When I was 7, for my mama's birthday, my daddy ordered a beautiful brooch for her. All of us thought it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. The rose… the tiny bird… Mama used to stand at the window and listen to the birds singin." Emma was lost in the dreams of the past.

After several minutes her thoughts came back to focus and she continued. "On the back of the brooch," absent mindedly she looked down at the brooch and turned it over in her hands, "my daddy had the jeweler inscribe 'with love, from all of us."

Buck and Ike exchanged apprehensive glances. There was a gasp from Abigail. Lou's hands automatically went to her mouth as she also, gasped and Kid moved to stand next to her. Jimmy and Cody shuffled at the ground. Sam went to stand behind Emma, putting his hands on her shoulders.

Emma reached up and grabbed Sam's hand that was on her left shoulder. She sat there a few minutes, gripping his hand and focusing her thoughts.

"Before my mama's birthday…" tears were streaming down Emma's cheeks and she had a distant look in her eyes, "…it was a cholera epidemic. My mama, my two older sisters and my youngest brother were very sick. None of them survived." She sat for a few minutes, trying to get her breathing under control. "My father died a few months later of a broken heart. Me and my brother were all that was left. He was five." She took another deep breath and looked at Lou and the riders in turn. "We never had that birthday party. My mama died 5 days before."

"You all know how my marriage to Evan Crandel ended. He was drinkin' and gamblin'… he sold off a lot of things… one of the things he sold was the brooch for my mama." Tears rolled down her cheeks as she held the brooch clutched in her hands. She dropped her chin, her eyes closed. "I never thought…" her voice trailed away, her body trembling with grief.

Lou sat beside her friend and tried to comfort her. She hugged Emma to her chest and held her while she sobbed.

Slowly, Emma came back to the group of friends that she was sitting with. She looked at each in turn and smiled. "Time has a way of helping you deal with the past." She put on a brave face and smiled at each in turn. "But it's the future that we have… because we're family."

Email Keri