But the Greatest of These Is Love

By Kirsten

This story is dedicated to all of you, my fellow Young Rider fans. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May the peace of this season be with you all year round!

"Jimmy, please, you gotta do this for me. When do I ever ask you to change rides with me?" Kid pleaded. "I promised Lou we'd go out today, and then when the runs got shifted I ended up being scheduled."

Hickok tossed his hat off and set his gloves down. He had things to do with his time too. It was freezing outside and the run that he would be taking, were he to take Kid's place, would force him to cross near the mountains. He was tired, as they had been working on repairing the corral outside all afternoon, and he desperately wanted to get some sleep. "Kid, why can't you just tell Lou what's happened. I'm sure she'll understand."

"So that's 'no'?"

"I'm sorry Kid, I've been out all day. And I haven't gotten a good night of sleep in days." Jimmy said nothing else but turned and walked towards his bunk. He felt sorry that he couldn't help his best friend out, but he couldn't risk being careless from exhaustion when delivering the mail either.

"Yeah, everybody's sorry this Christmas." Kid grumbled as he reached for his jacket, and pulled on his gloves. "Did you ever think that I've been getting the same amount of sleep as you?" He said as he slammed the door behind him. "The Express should at least get Christmas Eve off." Kid mumbled to himself.

Jimmy sighed, plopped on his bed, and crossed his arms under his head to stare at the ceiling. This really wasn't the jolly holiday season that he'd been familiar with. In fact, he was almost starting to wish that they could skip presents, singing, and any celebrating for the next two days all together.

"What do you mean she hasn't come back and nobody knows where she's at?" Kid cried out after Buck gave him the news.

He stepped back, shocked by the sudden outburst that was so uncommon of Kid. "All she said was that she was going Christmas shopping." Buck went back to tossing hay in the stalls, and Kid turned and left. He couldn't figure out why Lou would just run off like that. Now, even more than just a few moments ago, he was determined to find out where she was, or what had happened to her.

"Kid, I'm sorry, I don't know. I'm really busy right now." Rachel went back to her rummaging process. She had several crates sprawled out on the floor. "I had all of these Christmas things in order, and now I can't find one of them!" She took a deep breath in frustration.

Kid watched her and nodded his head. He was ready to give up on figuring out where Lou was, and just decided that he'd have to prepare for his run.

As he headed for the house, Kid saw Cody riding in at full speed. "I thought he wasn't due for at least another hour." He said to himself, hastily running inside to grab the few things he'd need for his over-night run.

"Hey, Kid, you around here?" Cody called out as he stopped his horse in front of the Bunkhouse. It was unusual for the riders not to be mounted and ready for the handoff.

Kid came out strapping on his gunbelt, pulling on his gloves, and wrapping his coat around him. "Yeah, I will be in a minute." He was frustrated that he had to do this in the first place, and the fact that the wind was blowing fiercely didn't help his motivation.

"I wouldn't bother getting all dressed up and packing those supplies if I was you." Cody started.

Kid looked confused and wrinkled his brow. "What do you mean?"

Cody slipped off of his horse and dusted himself off. "Someone else took your run back at the other station. So unless you're planning on spending the night somewhere, I'd relax."

Kid didn't know what to say, so he stood in shock. Cody headed inside but then turned around. "Oh, and I've got this message for you." The blond rider handed him an envelope that was unmarked, save the carefully written message 'For Kid.'

"Thanks." Was all he finally said. He stared at it a moment longer and then stopped Cody by grabbing his arm. "Who gave this to you?"

"I don't know, it was just handed to me, amongst a pile of other letters." He held up a small stack of them......each letter had one of the rider's names on it in similar writing. Yawning, Cody turned and went outside. A good few hours of sleep was on his mind.

Kid watched him leave and then he carefully opened it. He was almost afraid that it would contain some bad news. Unfolding it, he carefully began reading it:

A Christmas surprise is awaiting you,
There's just one thing you have to do.
Go out to the place where Katy sleeps,
And the hay is stacked in giant heaps.

His curiosity was now growing, and he obeyed the orders, making his way to where the directions stated......the barn.

"What is that!?" Jimmy exclaimed as Kid stumbled into the bunkhouse, a very large present of some sort in his arms. Even Cody sat up at the surprise.

"I don't know.....but I've got a good idea." Kid said with a boyish grin on his face. He tore off the paper that was so carefully wrapped around the large object. When he saw it there, in front of him, Kid suddenly realized the only person who would have known that this was what he had been wanting for so long......

It clicks here and locks there,
Often times resting behind your chair.
Look in the trunk to find the surprise,
And feast upon this gift with your own two eyes.

Rachel looked at the paper carefully, her curiosity rising. Who would have sent her such a note? Shrugging her shoulders she smiled and went over to the one trunk where she kept her most personal and prized possessions. Carefully opening it, she pulled out a beautifully wrapped package and opened it. It was the dress that she had been admiring for so many months.

Later that night in the bunkhouse, all the riders, with the exception of one, were gathered. Having each gotten their notes, and a gift that went with it, there was much discussion as to what might have been going on. It was probably the first time in a couple of weeks that they had all sat down together for a peaceful conversation.

Christmas held many sad and some happy memories for all of them. At this time of year all of them couldn't help but think about their families. Tonight though, there was definitely excitement in the air.

"Who did this?" Noah asked, trying on the brand new gloves that he had found under his bed.

"I don't know, but it's obviously someone who knew exactly what we've all been wanting." Jimmy added. He had a feeling that Lou had been up to something, in fact he knew it.

"Lou's the only one that knew I'd been wanting that saddle." Kid said as he smiled down at his new gift. The saddle had been in the window of Tompkin's store for months now. He'd been admiring it since its arrival, and Lou had been with him when he first discovered it. His thoughts went back to the present though.....where was she??

"Boys, I think this is something for all of us." Rachel opened the door to the Bunkhouse, and then suddenly spotted the new gifts which they had all received. "What's all this?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out." Jimmy stated.

"There were gifts for all of us, but each one had a poem attached that told us where it would be hidden." Buck continued.

Rachel smiled and then extended the note. "This goes with it then. It says that we are to be in town tomorrow dressed for dinner at six." It would be a lovely opportunity to wear the new dress that she had received. If only they could figure out why this was being done. Oh well, at least we can have fun and enjoy it, right?

Carefully creeping around the corner, Lightning right behind her, Louise tried to see if all of her friends were gone. She started to step out into the open, but then saw Teaspoon come out of Rachel's house straightening his suit and attempting to do something with his crooked tie. Then she spotted the rest of them, Rachel dressed in her elegant new dress, and all of the boys in their finest. It was just exactly as she had planned it!

She took her horse to the stables and then hastily went inside to do something with herself. "I certainly don't smell like much of a lady. Nobody's going to want to be around me like this." She chuckled as she trotted across the street, making sure nobody saw her. Then she went into the Bunkhouse to gather the rest of the things that were going to make her Christmas Eve present complete.

"I'm really starting to get worried about Lou." Kid said as they walked up the steps to the hotel. He was beginning to think that something had happened to her and that she wasn't behind this......after all, shouldn't she have shown herself by now?

"You've been saying that every five minutes all day, Kid! Give it a rest." Noah said as he pulled at the collar of his dress shirt. It was going to choke him to death before the night was over, he just knew it.

Teaspoon went inside first to inquire as to whether or not there were reservations. He figured that Lou had probably been the one who was conjuring all of this together. Instead he was surprised when the waitress handed him yet another note. He took it back out and read it to them.

"There, yep, that's perfect!" Lou stepped back and admired the table before her. It was exactly as she had pictured it. And now the cook from in town she had hired had placed the first parts of the meal out making it look complete. "Thank you so much, for all you've done. I can't bake a loaf of bread without it turning black."

She handed some money to the cook, who barely spoke English, and the older woman smiled. "You have good party."

Louise escorted her to the door. "Thank you."

"You can't be serious.....first they invite us out to dinner, and then we don't get to eat?" Cody groaned and rubbed his stomach. He was all set for a steak with potatoes and all the fixin's.

"I'm just telling you what the note says." Teaspoon replied. He motioned back towards the station. "I suggest we do as it says."

Lou stole a glance in the mirror just to make sure that her delicately pulled back hair was still in place. She smoothed out the folds of her dress and rubbed in the lipstick that she had 'borrowed' from Rachel's small make-up collection.

Quickly she went over and grabbed some matches off of the fireplace. She went and lit each of the candles on the table and made a final check to be sure that everything was the way she wanted it.

Louise stood in silence for a moment, staring at the dim candlelight, she couldn't remember ever having a Christmas that was set up this fancy. Usually her Christmases were spent in her room, trying her very best not to cry. Her mom would usually get she and her brother and sister something to open, but she knew money was tight and that's why it was usually an old dress or scarf that was patched with used fabric.

Then, at the orphanage, Christmas was even worse. The children would be fighting over what few presents had been donated, and she had never even bothered to try and get one from the pile. The best part of Christmas Eve was when the priest would come and tell them the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus Christ. He would have each one of the children act out a part, and usually Penny Logan would ALWAYS get to play Mary. Lou smiled as she remembered the fights that would arise because of it......all the girls were jealous of her.

It was still hard on all of them though. Being much older than the rest of the children, she knew that her chances of being adopted into a loving home were slim. I guess that's why after all these years when I have a real family I wanted to make Christmas special, with people I love. She felt a tear run down her cheek and she quickly wiped it away as she heard voices. Quickly she ran upstairs and hid. She was anxious to see the reaction on their faces when they saw the elegant table.

"I'm telling you, Noah, there isn't going to be anything. Probably just another dumb......" Cody stopped as he saw the lovely candle lit table, with perfectly cooked steaks, real silverware and a small bouquet of flowers in the center. "....note." He continued after several seconds had passed.

"Wow." Kid said at a loss for better words.

Rachel gently pushed past all of the stunned onlookers. "This is beautiful!" She smiled at how carefully everything had been placed.....the delicate napkins and plates rested on her finest table cloth. She'd showed those treasured items that she owned to Lou, and said that if she ever wanted to use them for a special occasion, she could. "Louise McCloud, you can come out now......we all know it's you." Rachel said as she started to laugh with happiness.

Anxiously the riders all waited for the young woman to emerge. After a few brief seconds, they were amazed to see Louise carefully descending from the top of the staircase. She was dressed in her finest, and her smile radiated joy and happiness. "I was hoping you would all join me for a little Christmas dinner."

Kid smiled. "So this is what you've been up to."

"Uh huh."

All of them were speechless. But then Teaspoon broke the silence by graciously bowing at his hostess and escorting her to the table. The other men followed his lead and soon the room was filled with excitement.

Kid turned to the woman beside him. "Lou, you didn't have to do all of this. The saddle was too..."

She put her finger on his lips to silence him. "No it wasn't. I'd been wanting to do something special for you for a long time." He said no more but smiled and gently kissed her on the cheek. She didn't want praise or thanks for what she had done......she just wanted to enjoy this beautiful moment. She was with a family that she loved, and that's all that mattered.

"Something that's really been bothering me," Noah started, "How did you arrange all of this and keep it such a big secret?"

"Yeah, and who took my ride yesterday?" Kid added.

"And where on earth did you come up with those poems?" Buck added with a smile.

She raised her eyebrows and waited for more questions to pour in so that she could answer them all at once. Seeing that they were finished, for the moment, she started with the first one.

"Well, I've been planing this for months now, I hired a cook, because you all know I couldn't fix this." They all laughed. "And I saved for a year to buy the gifts." She took a sip of her drink and turned to Kid with a smirk. "I took your ride yesterday. I knew how tired you were, and besides, it gave me time to get the notes over to Brian's Station in time for Cody to pick them up."

Kid was shocked and about to thank her when she continued. "Jesse helped me with the poems before he left to go stay at his friend's."

Teaspoon wiped his mouth. "I should've known. Sounded a lot like one of the poems I used a while back."

After dinner, they all sat around the fire enjoying each other's company, and the laughter amongst them. Lou had pulled off such a wonderful surprise, and it had snapped them all out of any traces of sorrow that they had been experiencing. She smiled as she watched Cody pull out the checker board and drag Noah into it. They must have sat up for hours, talking about past Christmases and the happy memories that they did have.

Finally as they were about to file off to bed Jimmy and Kid exchanged an silent look of communication and then Kid ran across to the Bunkhouse. Lou asked questions but none of the boys would tell her what was going on.

Kid returned with a small box, neatly gift wrapped with a small satin bow. They all made Lou sit in the middle of the room to open it. Kid handed it to her and then sat next to her. He was anxious to see her reaction, as was Jimmy.....the two boys had made a special trip just for this gift. The two men exchanged glances and smiled at each other......they couldn't wait to see her happy expression.

Carefully tearing the paper, Lou gasped when she felt the delicate chains of a gold necklace in her fingers. "A cameo!" She exclaimed tracing the delicate lines of it with her fingers. "You remembered." She said to Jimmy as she planted a gentle kiss on his cheek. "Oh thank you, thank you all!" She said looking around at them. That beautiful piece of jewelry was something she had dreamed of owning.

Kid turned to her. "After all that you've done for us, it seems so small."

Lou took his hand. "I wouldn't have asked for anything else, this is perfect."

A few moments later, the gift fastened around her neck, Lou rose to get the one thing that would now make their evening complete. Walking over to the small book shelf, she pulled down her first Christmas present......a Bible from her aunt which was given to her when she was two. She handed it to Teaspoon and then nestled between Kid and Jimmy on the couch. She grabbed a blanket and, with a little help, managed to covered herself, shutting out the chilling air. "Would you mind reading for us?" She asked now settled.

"I would be honored." Teaspoon said, tipping his hat and clearing his voice. He loved to be a narrator for any audience. Opening the Bible, he knew exactly where to turn to. In a few moments he began to read:

"And there were angels living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory for the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

'Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'"

Once he finished reading, everyone looked to Lou for one last 'thank you,' but she was fast asleep. It had been a few days since she had slept, having had to make preparations and double rides. They all quietly said their 'goodnights' and Kid carefully lifted her from the sofa.

It was a lovely night out, and the moonlight cast glistening shadows into the bunkhouse summoning the approaching Christmas morning. Lou awoke and found herself confortably tucked in bed, the lace from her dress was tugging at her neck, but she didn't care. Smiling at the snores and heavy breathing that filled the bunkhouse, she sighed with contentment and whispered to herself. "It's going to be a wonderful Christmas."

If you liked it, I'd love to hear from you!

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