Their First Noel (by Patina)

Summary: A Continuation of “The Battle of Wills”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5400


The Virginia City Christmas pageant was going to be held Saturday afternoon. Pastor Schmidt was rehearsing with the children one last time to make sure everyone knew their cues and lines. Five-year-old Hoss was playing Joseph and five-year-old Martha Tanner was playing Mary. Adam was happy that he was one of the three kings this year; last year he had been a shepherd, which required too much time on stage in his opinion.

“You children have done well. All of Virginia City is excited about the pageant. Don’t be nervous and remember that the story is about Jesus, not Santa Claus. Now, go home and get a good night’s rest. I’ll see all of you tomorrow at 1:30.”

With that, the children left the church and headed for their parents or ponies. Hoss and Adam went to their animals and headed for home.

“You’re gonna be good tomorrow, Hoss,” reassured Adam. “Just don’t be nervous. You did good with your lines today.”

“I ain’t gonna be scared,” replied Hoss. “Papa reads us the Christmas story every year, so I ain’t gonna forget none of it.”

As their ponies carried them home, the boys began to talk about the coming baby.

“Ya think Mama’s gonna give us a sister?” asked Hoss.

“I dunno.”

“If it’s a girl, do ya think she’ll name her Mary?”

“I doubt it. They’ll probably name a girl for Pa’s mama.”

“That don’t make sense. Papa says I was named for my mama’s father. How come they wouldn’t name the new baby for Mama’s mama?”

“They get to name the baby whatever they want. There aren’t any rules.”

“Who was you named for?”

“Pa says I was named after a person in my Ma’s favorite book.”

”Do ya think Mama has a favorite book to pull a name from?”

“I dunno.”

“What if it’s a boy?”

“When you were born, Pa said the next boy would be named for our grandfather Cartwright—Joseph.”

“I get to be Joseph tomorrow,” said Hoss with some excitement. “Do ya think Papa’s papa was named after the Joseph in the Bible?”

“Probably.”

“Are we gonna give the baby another name if we don’t like the name Mama and Papa come up with?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“Well, everyone calls me Hoss even though it ain’t my name. I was thinkin’ if Mama has a girl, we can call her Sissy. Whatcha think we should call a boy?”

“Mama’s brother, Gunnar, told us to call you Hoss if you were a boy. Lucky for us, you were.”

“Do ya think baby Jesus had another name?”

“I doubt it. Everyone probably just called him Jesus.”

They rode in silence for a few minutes. Adam was grateful for the quiet.

“Do ya think an angel will announce it when Mama has the baby?”

“An angel didn’t announce you.”

“How did ya know I’d been borned?”

“One of the ladies in the wagon train told me to come see my new brother.”

“There wasn’t no angel?”

“Nope.”

“Why was there an angel for baby Jesus then?”

“Because that was different. Don’tcha pay attention when Pa reads the Christmas story?”

A few more minutes of silence followed. Adam hoped Hoss was going to drop this line of questioning. The boy had so many questions about babies anymore.

“We ain’t got sheep. Do ya think an angel would tell the hands when Mama has the baby?”

“I don’t think there’s gonna be an angel, Hoss.”

“How will we know when the baby comes?”

“Pa’ll tell us.”

The boys were finally approaching the house. Adam was glad to be home; maybe Hoss would go pester Pa and Marie now. They took their ponies to the barn and then went inside the warm house.

“How did rehearsal go?” asked Ben as he saw his sons come in.

“Okay,” said Adam.

“I’m gonna be good as Joseph,” said Hoss.

Marie entered the room with two mugs of hot cocoa. “Thanks, Mama,” said Hoss with a big smile.

“Thank you,” said Adam very politely.

The boys took the mugs and walked over to the warmth of the fireplace.

“Do you need anything for tomorrow’s performance?” Marie asked.

“No, Ma’am,” answered Adam.

“I wanna a walkin’ stick,” said Hoss. “Joseph is s’posed to be old.”

“Joseph wasn’t that old,” said Ben, trying to stifle a laugh, “but we’ll see what we can do.”

“You gonna come watch tomorrow, Mama?” asked Hoss with excitement in his voice.

“Of course,” answered Marie, “I wouldn’t miss your stage debut.”

“Huh?” asked Hoss.

“She means she doesn’t want to miss your first acting performance,” said Adam.

“Oh. I’m glad you’re gonna be there, Mama.”

“Shouldn’t you stay home in your…condition?” asked Adam, hoping that Marie would remain behind.

“Mais non,” answered Marie. “The baby is not noticeable yet nor making me uncomfortable. I’m looking forward to the pageant tomorrow.”

Ben noticed Adam’s slight frown at learning that his step-mother would be attending the pageant. He knew he would need to have a talk with his older son about accepting Marie. The boy would just have to understand that his father had found both love and happiness with this woman. Ben’s love for his sons had not diminished when he married Marie—instead, that love had grown even stronger.

“I’m gonna go practice my words,” said Hoss, setting down his now empty mug. He went upstairs to his room to recite his lines.

Marie noticed that Adam was staring into the fire, his empty mug clutched in his hands. She cleared her throat and then said, “I’m going to check to see if Hoss needs any help with rehearsal.” Ben watched her go upstairs with a feeling of sadness. Adam was going to have to accept his new mother.

“Adam,” Ben said, “I appreciate your concern for your mother, but she is going to come to the pageant tomorrow. Why don’t you make an extra effort to be nice?”

“I am nice to her.”

“I don’t mean polite. I mean nice from your heart.”

“She’s still a stranger. I don’t really know her.”

“If you’d make more of an effort, you’d see what a wonderful person your mother is.”

“She’s not my mother,” said Adam with a glare for his father.

“You may not have picked her out, but she’s your mother now,” Ben replied, trying to keep his rising temper in check.

“You should’ve checked with me and Hoss before you married her. Don’t ya care what we think?”

“Of course I do. But I knew that you boys would love her like I do. Look how happy Hoss is having a mother. Why can’t you be happy, too?”

“Because she’s nothing like Mama. She’s not generous and caring or concerned about me and Hoss. She’s not…”

“That’s enough!” said Ben testily. “Go up to your room.”

Adam set his mug down on the table and then marched up the stairs to his room. Ben heard the sound of Adam’s door slamming shut.

Marie came downstairs shortly after. “What’s wrong, Mon Cher?” she asked.

“I don’t know why Adam is being so stubborn.”

“I wonder where he gets that from, Monsieur Cartwright,” said Marie, sitting down in Ben’s lap. She then kissed her husband tenderly.

After the kiss, Ben said, “Adam is upset that he didn’t get a say in this marriage. He sort of played matchmaker between Inger and me. He’ll come around as he gets to know you. I’m sure of it.”

Marie let out a sigh. “Hoss has been so accepting. He’s such a joy. I hope Adam will warm up to me.” Placing her hand over her belly, she asked, “Do you think this one will be like Hoss or Adam?”

Putting his hand over hers, Ben replied, “I hope we have a daughter who’s just like you.” He kissed her then, more passionately than their previous kiss.

“Hey, Mama,” said Hoss, startling his parents, “do ya think Joseph would have worn a coat over his robe to keep out the cold?”

Both Ben and Marie smiled and worked hard to stifle laughs. “I doubt it, Mon Fils,” answered Marie. “It was very warm where Jesus lived.”

“Like where you’re from?” the boy asked.

“Well, the winters in New Orleans were chilly but not as cold as here. I can only remember it snowing four times. When do you think all of this snow will be gone?”

“The snow won’t melt until spring,” answered Ben.

“Oh,” answered Marie with some disappointment.

“Don’t worry, Mama,” assured Hoss, “Papa always keeps a fire burnin’ in the winter. We always stay warm in the house.” With that, the boy went back upstairs.

Marie snuggled against Ben with a sigh; she would have to get used to winters in Nevada. Her heart would be warmer if she could win Adam over. The boy clearly did not like her. Maybe Ben was right; perhaps Adam resented not being consulted prior to his father’s marriage. She had never expected to fall in love with Ben Cartwright when he came to New Orleans to tell her of her husband’s death. Well, what was done was done.

“Are you sure you feel up to going to the pageant tomorrow?” Ben asked with concern. Marie had been having some bouts of sickness during the day instead of just the morning.

“I don’t want to miss this,” she answered. “It’s tres important for Hoss and Adam to know that I support them. Besides, the pageant will be held in the church, not outside in the cold.” She gave Ben’s hand a squeeze before she stood up. “I’m going to go lie down.”

Ben was left sitting by the fire, wondering how to talk to Adam without sounding like he was scolding the boy. He had only intended to tell Marie about her husband’s death when he went to New Orleans; he had never expected that he would become involved in her personal affairs. Nor did he expect Cupid to strike his heart with an arrow of love. Marie was hesitant to marry him at first, but his persistence finally paid off. On their trip home to the Ponderosa, all Ben could talk about were his sons and how happy they would be to have a new mother in their lives. He had never expected Adam’s resentment towards Marie. Hoss’ acceptance was not surprising considering how loving the child was towards every creature—two and four legged. Adam was polite, but distant. He didn’t speak to Marie unless she addressed him first. Ben was hoping that the book Marie had purchased for Adam as a Christmas present would break the ice in the boy’s heart.

Prior to their marriage, Ben told Marie about his previous wives. Marie understood that Ben still loved Elizabeth and Inger. She didn’t expect him to erase the memories of the women who had borne his children. As Inger had understood that Liz lived in his heart, Marie knew that Ben had room for her, too. He knew he was truly a lucky man to have found such a wonderful woman as Marie de Marigny.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs brought Ben out of his reverie. Adam had decided to come back to the fireplace to read for a while.

Looking around, Adam asked, “Where’d Marie go?”

“She went upstairs to get some rest.” Ben noticed that Adam visibly relaxed just knowing that Marie was not on the same floor.

“We need to talk, son,” he said as soon as Adam sat down.

“About what?” Adam asked suspiciously.

“I want you to listen and not interrupt. I never thought I could love another woman after your mother died. She had been my whole world. I fully expected to raise you by myself as my only child. When I met Inger, I clung to the memory of your mother as a way of avoiding my feelings for her. She had so much love in her heart that she didn’t care that you were not her blood child. Inger made me realize that your mother had a special place in my heart where she would always live. You, Adam, are the physical reminder of what I had with your mother.”

Adam blushed at that comment. He was pretty sure where this lecture was going, but he was not about to interrupt his father.

“Inger and I loved each other so deeply and I thought I would be spending the rest of my life with her. Hoss’ birth made our love so much stronger. You weren’t her child, but she didn’t love you any less than Hoss. As I said, she had enough room in her heart for the both of you and me as well as any future children.

“When Inger was killed, I had to again bury my wife. I was determined to close my heart and live only for you and Hoss. Until I went to New Orleans, I hadn’t been in love with another woman. I met Marie and fell in love with her as I came to know her. You may not think so, but Marie loves you and Hoss very much. Like Inger, she loves you even though neither of you is her blood child. When she has the baby, her love for you and Hoss won’t be diminished. She’ll love the both of you…”

Adam couldn’t take this lecture anymore. “When Marie has the baby, she’ll forget about Hoss and me. All she’ll care about is the new baby. Inger was special. There wasn’t a mean bone in her body. She treated me like I was her son. Marie doesn’t treat Hoss or me like that. She might call us son but she doesn’t mean it.” Adam’s voice was starting to rise. “In fact, she probably plans to send us away when the baby comes. That way, you’ll forget all about us and only care about the new baby.”

“That’s enough!” thundered Ben. “Go up to your room and stay there,” he said, pointing at the stairs.

Adam was only too happy to comply.

Ben was flustered after Adam left the room; he thought he could make Adam understand his love for Marie. Inger had died five years ago. Maybe the boy thought that his father would honor her memory by never marrying again. Perhaps he should have quickly remarried to a woman in the wagon train so his sons would have had a mother. If he’d done that, he would never have gone to New Orleans, gotten to know Marie, fallen in love, and then married the woman he had come to know.

Again, the sound of footsteps on the stairs caught Ben’s attention. Hoss was on the stairs with a sheet wound around him.

“What are you doing?” asked Ben.

“I’m tryin’ to dress like Joseph,” was the answer. “How come Mama’s cryin’,” he asked with a puzzled look.

Ben patted his knees to signal Hoss to come over. The boy walked over and squirmed his way into his father’s lap. Ben kissed the top of Hoss’ head as he held the boy to him.

“Why did Joseph say he was Jesus’ pa?” asked Hoss. “Didn’t Mary ever tell Jesus the truth?”

Ben was caught by off guard by that question. The Bible didn’t give an explanation, but he knew that Joseph had enough love in his heart for a child he didn’t father.

“Joseph was the only father Jesus ever knew. Mary loved Joseph even more for loving her child, so she didn’t think it was important to tell Jesus that he wasn’t Joseph’s blood child.”

“Ya mean like the way Mama loves me and Adam?”

Surprised, Ben answered, “Just like that.” He kissed the top of Hoss’ head again. “And words of wisdom shall come from the mouths of babes,” he thought. Ben then scooted Hoss off of his lap and stood up. “Why don’t you go and change into a night shirt. I’ll go check on Mama.” They went up the stairs together.

Entering their room, Ben found Marie face-down on the bed with her face in a pillow. Softly, he called her name. She raised her tear-stained face and looked at her husband with red-rimmed eyes. Ben sat down next to her on the bed and pulled her to him. He stroked her hair and made soothing noises.

“I would never send your children away,” Marie said, gripping Ben’s arms tightly.

“You mean our children,” he answered, kissing her neck.

“Mais oui. Our children.”

*****

Adam came down to breakfast the next morning to see his father at the table alone. “Where’s Marie?” he asked.

“She wasn’t feeling well, so Hoss and I took a tray up to her. Hoss is having his breakfast with her.”

“Oh,” was Adam’s only response as he ate his meal in strained silence.

Finishing his breakfast, Adam went to the barn to take care of his horse. As he worked, he thought about Inger—she had been his mother even though she hadn’t given birth to him. Adam had been sick when he first met Inger and she was so worried she nursed him back to health. He had quickly fallen in love with her and wanted her to be his mother. Pa took a while to come around, but even he knew Inger was so perfect.

During the trip with the wagon train, Mama sang songs to him and told stories. She didn’t care that Adam was not her child when she knew she was expecting Hoss. After Hoss was born, Inger still treated Adam as her own child. She died trying to protect both boys. Adam doubted that Marie would risk her life to save him or his brother.

As Adam was currying his pony, Hoss came out to the barn. Hoss fed his pony and began to curry the animal.

“Why have ya got to be mean to Mama?” Hoss asked his brother.

“I’m not mean to her.”

“You don’t talk to her.”

“I don’t have anything to say to her.”

“But ya got stuff to say to me and Papa.”

“That’s different.”

“Why?”

“It just is.”

The boys finished grooming their animals and began working on their father’s horse. They mucked out the stall and then began brushing the horse.

Hoss finally broke the silence. “Jesus loved Joseph even though he wasn’t his papa.”

“That was different, Hoss. Jesus wasn’t a normal person.”

“How do ya mean?”

“An angel came to his ma and later announced it when he was born. Jesus was born in a barn because his ma and pa didn’t have a house. The three kings followed a star to that barn because they knew Jesus was special.”

“I was borned in a wagon. Does that make me special?”

“No. Lots of kids have been born in wagons.”

“Oh.”

They went back to working in silence for a while. “But Joseph didn’t care that he wasn’t Jesus’ papa. He took care of baby Jesus.”

“It’s different for a pa,” answered Adam. He just knew that a man wouldn’t care if a baby was his or not. Women were different because they could have babies of their own.

“Why?”

“It just is,” Adam answered, getting tired of this topic of conversation.

“Papa says that my mama didn’t care you wasn’t hers. She loved you a lot.”

“That was different! Mama was nice and loved everyone. She married Pa for love, not because he owned a ranch.”

Ben had been near the door, listening to his sons. Upon hearing Adam’s last comment, he believed he understood the root of the problem. Adam was worried that Marie had only been interested in money. He didn’t know how to convince his son that Marie married for love.

He walked into the barn to let the boys know that lunch was ready. Hop Sing was serving lunch early so the boys could get ready for the pageant since the Cartwrights had to be at the church by 1:30.

Ben and the boys walked into the house together. Marie was seated at the table, waiting on her men folk. A large tureen of steaming soup sat on the table, waiting to be served. A plate of sandwiches sat near the soup.

Marie began ladling soup into the bowls as her men sat down. She handed a steaming bowl to Hoss, who smiled his thanks. Then she handed a bowl to Adam, who just said, “Thanks,” without looking her in the eye. She then served her husband and herself. Trying to make conversation, she asked, “Are you boys ready for the pageant?”

“I knows all my lines,” bragged Hoss. “I ain’t gonna be scared at all.”

“What about you, Adam?”

“I’m one of the three kings. All I have to do is wait around until my entrance. Then I hand over a box of myrrh. It won’t be that hard.”

“Didja have pageants like this at home, Mama?” asked Hoss.

“Of course we did. The Cathedral was also decorated with a crèche at the beginning of advent to remind us of the meaning of Christmas.”

“What’s a crash?” asked Hoss.

“It’s pronounced cresh,” she answered, “and it’s a model of the manger scene in the Bible. There were hand-carved figures of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, the angel, and the animals around the manger. It was really beautiful.”

“Can we have a crash, Papa?”

“Maybe next year,” answered Ben. Putting up such a display would certainly cause many tongues to wag in Virginia City.

Finally finishing lunch, Adam and Hoss went upstairs to change before leaving for town. Seeing that he had a few minutes alone with Marie, Ben told her what he had overheard from the barn door.

“But I didn’t marry you for money.”

“I know that but Adam thinks so. At least we know what has caused his attitude.”

The boys came downstairs before she could reply. Everyone bundled up in coats and scarves for the trip to Virginia City. Hoss dominated the conversation with talk about the pageant and what kind of papa he believed Joseph was.

Marie decided that singing Christmas carols would be fun. She began singing Away in a Manger and everyone soon joined in. Silent Night was next; Adam sang a beautiful counter harmony in a clear voice. By the time they approached Virginia City, they were singing O Come All Ye Faithful.

Arriving at the church, the boys went to the back room where the other children were putting on their costumes. Children kept peeking out from behind a curtain to look for their parents. They wanted to see where their parents were sitting so they could be sure to signal during the performance.

Pastor Schmidt signaled for Hoss and Martha Tanner to come over. The pastor placed a doll in Martha’s arms. “You and Hoss will go outside and wait for the signal to come in. Pretend you’ve had a long donkey ride, Martha, and place the baby in the manger when you get to the front of the church.” The pastor had decided that Martha would bring in the baby so he wouldn’t have to explain a delicate matter like childbirth to a five year old. “Hoss, you steer Martha by the elbow like Joseph would have done with Mary. Is everyone ready?”

Getting okays from all of the children, Pastor Schmidt sent Hoss and Martha down the church aisle and out the door. The pastor went to the pulpit and made his introductory remarks. Then he read from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 1 Verse 18. On cue, Hoss and Martha entered the church and made their way to the manger.

Hoss hadn’t been nervous when he was practicing by himself; now there was a church full of people. As a result, Hoss began a steady stream of talking that made Martha glare at him. This pageant was supposed to be about her, not him.

Leading her up the aisle, Hoss said, “C’mon, Mary, we gotta get you and the baby settled in for the night. It shore is cold out. That poor donkey shore is tired, too. Mebbe we should bring him in. Look, there’s a manger for the baby. It’s a good thing we found somewhere warm to stay.”

Many parents were grinning at Hoss’ performance; no one was laughing openly. The shepherds backstage were awaiting their cue from the pastor.

Martha put the doll in the manger as she was supposed to and knelt down next to the manger. Hoss looked down at the doll and said, “I’m shore proud of our boy, Mary. He’s not even cryin’.” Martha shot a look at Hoss. This was supposed to be a special moment because the shepherds were about to come in.

Three shepherds came out from behind the curtain. “We are but poor shepherds,” announced Tommy Dotson, “but an angel told us to come here for something special has happened.” One of the shepherds gave Martha a sheepskin blanket for the baby.

Placing the blanket over the baby, Martha thanked the shepherds for their gift. Hoss couldn’t help but add his thoughts. “We shore are grateful for the blanket. It’s cold out and we didn’t have nothing to keep the baby warm. I don’t got any money, but Mary married me anyway. We don’t have any money for a place of our own, so we’re here in the barn. Thanks again.”

Backstage, Adam didn’t know what to make of Hoss’ departure from the script. He figured Hoss was nervous, but this was beyond forgetting lines.

Hoss gestured for the shepherds to look in the manger. They looked over at Pastor Schmidt, who shrugged his shoulders. The boys went to the manger and looked down at the doll. “I ain’t his papa, but I don’t care.” A gasp went up from the families watching the pageant; Pastor Schmidt put a hand over his eyes. Martha glared daggers at Hoss. “I love Jesus just like he was my own son. I’m gonna be the best papa I can be for him. I’m gonna teach him how to ride a pony and shoot a gun, when the time comes.”

Martha couldn’t take it anymore—she stood up and kicked Hoss in the shin. The boy started hopping around on one foot, yelping. Backstage, Adam was deep in thought— Jesus loved Joseph even though the man wasn’t his pa. From the beginning, Mary and Joseph knew the truth, but that didn’t stop Joseph from accepting Jesus as his own child. He could’ve left Mary and the baby to fend for themselves instead of traveling with them. If that had happened, the children wouldn’t be here at the church performing the Christmas pageant.

Adam was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of a crash. The manger had fallen over during a shoving match between Hoss and Martha. The doll was on the floor under the sheepskin blanket. Ben and Steve Tanner approached the stage to separate their children. The shepherds had flocked to Pastor Schmidt for protection. He was sitting dumbstruck, watching his two leads shove each other around. This had never happened before in all of the pastor’s experiences with the pageant. Casting Hoss as Joseph had obviously been a mistake.

Once the two children were separated by their fathers, Pastor Schmidt announced, “Thank you all for coming to this year’s pageant. I believe we’ll end now. Merry Christmas, everyone.” The pastor then slunk behind the curtain.

Adam and the other two kings removed their costumes. Actually, Adam was relieved that he didn’t have to go deliver his gift of myrrh. Hoss had made such a spectacle of himself that Adam was sure that none of the Cartwrights would be able to show their faces in Virginia City for months to come.

Ben shepherded his family out of the church as quickly as possible. He wanted to get out of earshot and home. Someone said, “This is one pageant no one will ever forget.” The remark was followed by snickering. A female voice said, “That Ben Cartwright needs to have a talk with that boy of his. I’ve never heard so much blasphemy in all my life.”

After the family was loaded in the wagon, Ben headed for home. He hoped they could just travel in silence. Hoss had done more than enough talking during the pageant.

“How come folks thought I was bein’ bad?” Hoss finally asked.

“Joseph would never have acted like that,” said Adam.

“How would he have acted?”

“More dignified than you did,” answered Ben.

“I thought Hoss did very well,” said Marie. “His Joseph was very down-to-earth. I could imagine what fatherhood was like for him.”

“Still,” said Ben, “his little escapade will keep tongues wagging for months to come.”

“People will soon forget and find someone else to gossip about,” she said with a pat to Ben’s arm.

Adam had a sudden realization at that remark. Other folks probably thought Marie had married his father because of the ranch. That meant they were probably gossiping about him and Hoss, too. The thought of his pa’s friends and neighbors spreading lies about Marie bothered the boy greatly. Now he’d find himself taking up for her to defend his pa and brother. This was definitely putting him in an awkward position. He’d have a hard time hating Marie if he had to speak positively about her to other folks.

Once they reached the Ponderosa, Ben asked Hoss to help him put up the wagon and take care of the horses. Ben wanted to have a talk with Hoss in private. He couldn’t punish the boy for his performance in the pageant, but he did need to talk to his son about the seriousness of the Christmas story.

Marie and Adam went into the house. She expected Adam to go upstairs or give her the silent treatment. As she removed her gloves and scarf, Adam asked, “Can I talk to ya, Marie?”

“Mais oui,” she answered sitting down on the settee. She patted the cushion beside her, inviting the boy to sit down next to her.

Nervously, he complied with her request. “Marie, I can’t call you Ma ‘cause I don’t know you. I’ll just keep calling you Marie for now. Maybe someday I’ll be able to call you ma. For now, Inger is still my mama. I wasn’t her child, but she loved me like I was. Pa says you love me even though I’m not yours. I appreciate that you love me and Hoss, especially ‘cause you and Pa are gonna have a baby. I won’t promise that I’ll ever love you like my mother, but I’ll love you for Pa’s sake.”

Tears were rolling down Marie’s cheeks; she didn’t know what to say. This was such a big step for Adam. She held out her hand to shake the boy’s hand, figuring that a hug wouldn’t be welcomed. Adam looked at her hand and then leaned forward to hug her.

Ben and Hoss walked inside the warm house. Marie’s sniffles caught Ben’s attention. He walked over to the settee and was surprised to see Adam hugging Marie. Hoss decided that a group hug was called for and tried to worm his way between his older brother and mother. Adam blushed with embarrassment at being caught hugging Marie. The boy took Hoss’ hand and led him upstairs.

After the boys left, Ben sat down next to his wife. “What happened?” he asked, giving Marie his handkerchief.

“Adam told me that he won’t call me mother but he’ll love me because you do.”

Ben was surprised by this. Maybe Hoss’ performance in the pageant made Adam realize that blood ties weren’t the only requirement for family bonds. He kissed Marie’s forehead and then held her close.

“Maybe we’ll have a joyeau noel after all,” she said. Hearing a “huh” from her husband, she said, “I mean a merry Christmas.” Ben kissed the top of her head and she snuggled close. Watching from the top of the stairs, Hoss whispered, “Thank you, Joseph and baby Jesus.”

***The End***

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