A Christmas Wish (by puppycuddles)

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Summary:  Each member of the family is important. The absence of just one or two is greatly felt, especially during the Christmas season. Ben reflects on the changes the year has brought while someone else makes a special wish. A prequel story.

Rating: G

Word count: 1,326 words

A Christmas Wish

It was Christmas Eve. I stared into the flames and sighed. How different this Christmas Eve was from last year’s. The house had been filled with joy as the five of us laughed and sang and danced in front of the fire.

This year, however, few happy sounds were heard. I had forced a smile on my face and tried to cheer the boys up by joking and laughing, but it didn’t seem to work. It seemed nothing could shake the somber mood. The boys trudged upstairs to bed early and even the thought of Santa failed to bring a smile to Little Joe’s face.

I sighed again. What a change one year could make. What a difference the absence of two people could make. Oh, how I miss them both. Marie, my wonderful, charming wife who could light up a room by merely walking into it, and Adam, my serious, dry humored first-born who had matured greatly in the months since Marie’s passing.

But while I missed Adam, I knew his absence was only temporary. He would be back, at my right hand once again, helping to build the Ponderosa and keep his younger brothers in line. Until then, I had his letters to look forward to.

Of Marie, however, there is no future to look forward to. All I have is the past, the memories we made, and the tangible items she loved to make me feel close to her. The firelight glinted off the item between my fingers. Marie’s wedding ring. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered how her face lit up the moment I placed it on her finger. She’d been so proud of her ring. She’d loved to watch how the diamond sparkled as the light bounced off of it. It had been her most treasured possession.

A faint sound caught my attention. I wiped my eyes, slipping the ring into my pocket, and glanced towards the stairs waiting for one of the boys to appear. After a few moments, I was beginning to think I was hearing things when a curly dark head peered around the stairwell.

The past is not all you have, I heard a gentle voice whisper in my ear. I left you something much more precious than even my ring. He is our future.

Her words brought a smile to my face. She was right, but then she usually was.

“Little Joe, I thought you went to bed hours ago…what are you doing up?”

Caught, he slowly came down stairs and stood next to my chair, head downcast. He’d reverted to sucking his thumb I noticed.

“What’s wrong, son?” I asked. Without raising his head, he glanced up at me thru long lashes but didn’t respond. Maybe he’s just lonely. Joe had become very clingy in the recent months and hated being by himself. Not that I could blame him. His whole world had been turned upside down. “Come sit up here with me.” I patted my knee.

He pulled his thumb from his mouth and climbed up on my lap where I promptly hugged him close. “Now, you want to tell me why you’re not in bed? Santa can’t bring you presents if you’re not asleep.”

A frown appeared on his little face. “Is it true?”

I was puzzled. “Is what true?”

“Hoss says Santa can bring me whatever I want? Is that true?”

I hadn’t been a father for seventeen years not to know these questions were leading somewhere. “Well, it depends on what it is you want…and how much of a good boy you’ve been this year.”

Innocent green eyes stared up at me. “I’ve been real good this year, haven’t I, Pa?”

I smiled, ruffling his wild curls. If he didn’t get a haircut soon people would start mistaking him for a girl. “Yes, I think it’s safe to say you’ve been a very good boy this year.”

“Do you think Santa will bring me what I want?”

“What is it you want Santa to bring you?”

“I asked Santa to bring Mama back to me. Hoss says he can’t. What do you think, Pa?”

I hugged him tight, closing my eyes to hide the tears that threatened to fall. How do you explain to a five-year old that his mother is never coming back? My words felt lodged in my throat and I swallowed hard.

“Joe, son,-“

“He can’t, can he?”

I shook my head. “No, I’m afraid not.”

“She’s not ever coming back, is she?”

Tears slid down my cheeks as again I shook my head. His lower lip quivered and he dropped his head to stare at his hands. Silent sobs began to shake his body, my heart breaking as I hugged him to me. He buried his face in my shirt and cried.

How long we sat there, I’ll never know. It seemed like hours but in truth it was probably only minutes. When his sobs died down, Joe pulled away from me, wiping his nose and eyes on the hem of his nightshirt. Normally, I would’ve scolded him for such an action but tonight I couldn’t bring myself to do so.

“Pa?” He looked up at me and the expression on his face told me there was something else on his mind.

“Hmm?”

“Can- can Santa bring Adam back?”

I sighed. “Not in time for Christmas tomorrow, I’m afraid.”

“Then when?”

“Not for a long time, son.”

He scrunched up his nose and mouth as he pondered my words. “But he can bring him back, can’t he?”

I nodded happy to finally be able to give him a positive answer. “Yes, Little Joe. He sure can.”

A smile lit up his little face and he scrambled down from my lap. “Well, then I’d better hurry.” He grabbed my hand, tugging me out of the chair. “Come on, Pa, I need you to help me.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the quick change in his mood. “What is it you need help with?”

“I need you to help me write a new letter to Santa before it’s too late.” He gave my hand another tug. “Come on, Pa, hurry! I’ve got to have it done before he gets here!”

I chuckled. “All right, boy, I’m coming.”

I sat down at the desk, took out a pen, ink, and a clean sheet of paper and studiously copied down the words he dictated. When the letter was written and sealed he happily hugged it tight.

“Thanks, Pa.” He grinned, turning to race upstairs only to stop on the first step. “But how will Santa get my letter in time? He’s coming tonight and I can’t mail it until tomorrow.”

I smiled. “Give it to me. I’ll wait up for Santa and make sure he gets it when he comes.”

“Thanks, Pa!” He bounded over to me, depositing the letter on my desk. “Wow, I wish I could meet Santa!”

I tweeted his nose. “Nobody’s going to meet Santa if you don’t get up to bed, young man. So scoot!”

He giggled, racing up the stairs. “Hoss! Hoss! Adam’s coming home!”

“Shh! Joseph! Let your brother sleep.”

He paused momentarily at the top, the wide still on his face as he turned to look at me. “Good night, Pa. Don’t worry, Santa will bring Adam home. I just know it.”

-/-/-/-

Four years later, Adam did indeed come home. Joe claims it was Santa who brought him home. I don’t know whether or not Santa had anything to do with it but I’m not about to argue. My boy is home, safe, and that’s all that matters to me.

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