Nick's Christmas Blues
By Mrs. Nick B
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended by the author. The ideas expressed in this story are copyrighted to the author.
Set up: This story takes place about five years after The Big Valley's episode The Prize.
The dark rider rode quietly on his horse, eyes downcast. He had spent most of the night with some of the boys at the saloon for a private Christmas party. Feeling hung over he didn't relish going home to his family. He knew they would be very festive and moving about excitedly and he certainly wasn't in the mood for the usual Barkley Christmas cheer. He was tired; bored with it all, and he didn't really know why. 'When did it all start?' he wondered, 'Oh yes, last week.' He had let his mother and Audra talk him into going Christmas shopping in Stockton for a few last minute things. He didn't really want to go, but he had no excuse to give them, there was nothing pending at the ranch that needed his attention, and he confessed to himself that he did need to buy those presents for the children at the Stanleys, especially little Joey.
Little Joey Stanley was the former Rawlins kid that Heath had brought home one day. Little Joey's mother had died of pneumonia and Heath had shot Joey's outlaw dad dead, in the foyer of the Barkley home. Of course it was in self-defense and Rawlins had a price on his head. Heath made sure the five thousand dollar reward money went to Joey's upbringing and that it did. The Stanleys were very good about keeping their promise.
The day before, Nick had delivered the presents to the Stanley children, a little baby doll for young Susan, a bow and arrow for Joshua, and a sewing kit and dress patterns for the older girl Sarah. (Audra had helped Nick pick that out for the girl.) As for young Joey, Nick had picked out that gift himself. Joey was six years old now and he enjoyed playing with toy soldiers just as Nick had at that age; but this time Nick found a set of toy knights in the store, with horses and jousting weapons. Nick couldn't resist buying it, having been an admirer of stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Joey was so excited when he opened the package. Nick had sat on the floor and showed Joey how to play with the knights and he told him the stories he remembered reading in the King Arthur book. He had Joey's rapt attention as the boy listened; then he and Nick would act the stories out while sitting on the parlor rug. Nick would be the evil Black Knight and Joey would be Sir Lancelot. At one time Nick had taken his neckerchief off, wrapped it around his hand and pretended to be a fire breathing dragon which Joey's White Knight made short work of, and in the process gave Nick's hand a few minor cuts with the knight's lance. But Nick didn't mind really, it had been the most fun he had in a long time. Nick Barkley never really thought about it much but he loved kids. He loved everything about them. Their innocence, their trust, their joy for life and their wonder of Christmas.
Christmas and children, that's really what it was all about he told himself as he rode closer to his ranch. Sadly Nick and his wife didn't have children. They had been married for two years but try as they might, that blessing seem to have escape them. Nick would have cut off his right arm then ever tell his wife how he felt, but there it was, that tinge of regret, made all the more magnified by the Christmas season. Nick dreaded celebrating another Christmas, because it was then that the emptiness was most evident. He knew his wife felt the same, but it was the only silence between them and they both knew it. They had eachother's hearts and knew the other's so well, so those regrets were always left unspoken.
He rode slowly into the yard, dismounted, and lead Coco into the barn. It was there that he saw his wife sitting a on a bale of hay sobbing. He rushed to her, kneeling at her feet.
"Honey, what's wrong?!" his gloved hand wiping a tear away from her cheek.
"When you didn't come back last night I became worried. Heath said you were going to stay in town. I was..., well, I thought you were angry with me. I don't know Nick, you've been so down lately. Is it because of me?"
"Oh Sweetheart, no, never because of you. You're my joy, you know that. I'm sorry, the boys got a little rowdy and well, I got a bit drunk myself and I didn't want to burden you, so I told Heath to tell you I was staying in town for the night. I'm sorry I worried you. Do you forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive, I guess I'm just being silly. I know I've been a bit put out and all, and I guess I've been acting like a fish wife, always nagging you, I'm sorry."
"You have not been nagging me, ...much." He smiles teasingly at her. He moves to sit beside her on the bale, taking her small hands in his. She releases one of her hands from his grip and searches in her apron pocket.
"I have something to give you. I wanted to give it to you last night at midnight but you weren't home. You know we always give eachother one gift on Christmas eve well this is it. Merry Christmas Sweetheart." She handed him a small envelope.
"I'm sorry, I forgot about that, I have your gift upstairs, let's you and I go get it; come on."
"Later Nick, I want you to open this gift here, in private."
"Well, sure. You know me and gifts, nothing I like more than to get my gifts first before anybody else." Nick quickly teared at the envelope and found a Christmas card, he gave his wife a smile, "A Christmas card? From you?"
"...Not from me, read it, outloud, so I can hear it too."
"Okay, 'Merry Christmas to the greatest man I ever hope to meet, my Dad.' Nick looked at his wife puzzled. "I don't understand, who is it from? It's not even signed."
"That because our baby isn't born yet."
"Yes, our baby. Merry Christmas Nick Barkley."